Often a topic frequently avoided, the future can be a scary thought. The Future State event, held at Spark Arena in early May, however, tackled this topic frankly and thoroughly, bringing together individuals from across multiple industries to discuss evolving technology, ethics, marketing and everything in-between.
No conference held in 2023 is complete without talk of Artificial Intelligence (AI) or ChatGPT.
Held by both Spark Business Lab and Semi Permanent, the Future State conference unpacked the challenges, opportunities and advancements of technology that will be driving the state of the future, covering topics across technological advancements such as the metaverse, gamification, data sovereignty and much more.
One of the most jarring predictions of the future came when global retail brand Adidas spoke on how the future of e-commerce in 2043 will see a heavy implementation of augmented reality (AR) which tracks how dilated your pupils get when you see a product on someone else, automatically placing the product in your cart if it deems you have had a positive emotional reaction to it.
Professor of AI Ethics and Society at University of Cambridge, Dr Jonnie Penn, shared a more skeptical view of technology’s role in the future.
His talk included examples of music being produced by AI to mimic artists such as Drake, Taylor Swift, The Weeknd who are suing AI models for the misuse of their voices, and the creation of photo-realistic images of people who don’t exist.
In light of how far AI has come, Penn also introduced his rest engineering theory, encouraging researchers and developers of AI to focus more on areas where the technology can be useful, and pause or avoid where it is not.
Essentially, a key takeaway from the conference is that the future is becoming a fully digitalised world.
However, Michelle Dickinson, of Nanogirl fame, and co-host of the event with television presenter Jack Tame, says the future is “not going in a direction we like”.
“It’s a scary world. But it’s fixable. We are working really hard to shift it to become more inclusive and inclusive not just in the way of race, ethnicity, gender but also making sure that we don’t forget those who aren’t digitally savvy.”
Fifteen percent of families in South Auckland do not have access to the internet at home, and that is just South Auckland alone, she adds.
Following the pandemic in 2020, it became clear there was a massive digital divide in New Zealand that was failing to be recognised.
Statista reveals that as of 2021, six percent of New Zealand do not have access to internet, while Digital.govt.nz says that nearly four percent of the Māori ethnic group do not have internet access at home.
Dickinson says the implementation of advanced tech infrastructures is causing a larger rift in the digital divide.
“We can’t go, ‘Everything’s going to be in the metaverse’ without thinking about those who are still not able to access technology and infrastructure,” she adds.
“Let’s stop building things for one group of people who pay for it, but let’s make sure digital becomes more inclusive and let’s not forget, the best thing about being human is human to human connection.”
There’s no doubt that technology is being built and refined at a rapid pace. Afterall, the AI chatbot ChatGPT quickly became the fastest platform to gain one million users in under a week. Nearly six months later, the new version of ChatGPT is out.
But within those six months, was the digital divide addressed and fixed?
“I feel like the things that we’re building lose that connectivity of what makes us so amazing, it’s our storytelling of authenticity, who we are,” she says.
These advancements in technology should be celebrated and something be excited about, she says, but now is a time “to go back to who we are as humans and what our core values are and what we need”.
“It’s a scary world. But it’s fixable,” says Dickinson.
“In times of crisis, we need each other. That’s how our species has thrived, let’s not forget that.”