Zero interfaces, zero decisions… zero-human future?

Sandrine Cathelat

Research Director at the Netexplo Observatory

Just like the industrial revolutions of the past, today’s digital revolution is taking us into an uncertain future, full of promise but also apprehension. A world is emerging in which people are becoming puppets controlled by software, disengaged slaves to machines endowed with artificial intelligence. As a result, public opinion tends to reflect a terrifying vision in which we lose control leading to complete dehumanisation. We are, however, entirely capable of maintaining control in a digital world.

While we often hear that digital technology is changing the way we live, the things we do and how we engage with the world, it is important to get a clear understanding of the basic trends. The Netexplo Observatory and its worldwide network of academic experts have been analysing digital innovation from a user perspective for the last 12 years. Its most recent study from 2018 revealed two fundamental trends: zero interfaces and zero decisions. We are seeing the use – and necessity – of screens diminish and user-machine interaction break free from the constraints associated with screenbased interfaces. We use voice control to search the web through connected speakers and facial recognition rather than passwords to unlock our devices. Handsets are gradually disappearing and it is our surroundings that are becoming the interface with which we communicate silently and imperceptibly – through our behaviour, heart beat or brain waves. In any given system, for example a home equipped with sensors, artificial intelligence receives information automatically. Zero decisions, a concept that is closely linked to zero interfaces, represents the capacity of digital technologies to analyse information before choosing and implementing a strategy without human intervention. The self-driving car is one example. Medical nanorobots are another. When embedded with artificial intelligence and injected into the body, they can detect an anomaly and administer targeted and immediate medication. There is no doubt that these technologies bring hope for progress in health, safety, comfort and convenience.

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And then there are the challenges. The first is the question of power. Who is driving the “machine”? Are the GAFA and other AI titans standardising user behaviour and psychology? And what will the future hold for humans in a zero decision world? Will it be, as many fear, a zero-human future in which people have no purpose, work, status or power? Or will an augmented humanity emerge, for whom life is enhanced by technology? The moment has come to think about our future. Individuals and businesses all have a responsibility to decide the future they want if they are to avoid a future they do not want.

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