One of the main subjects was sustainability and the way we need to think about digitalization
as an enabler for a sustainable world.
We were talking a lot about trust, both on an individual level as consumers,
and also how companies can use it as a differentiator.
Lack of understanding
Technology and the use of data has been developing rapidly, in a speed much faster than the common knowledge surrounding the underlying technology. The ones who understand have been able to operate in a vacuum and subsequently capitalize on that their surrounding cannot really evaluate what is reasonable and fair in how the businesses and organizations operate. As the public level of understanding rise, the attention to misconducts has increased and mistakes by companies are blowing up to be scandals.
The occurrence of these “abuses” are leading to historically low levels of trust to companies and platforms that are misusing our data, enabling the spread of fake news and filter bubbles. But it seems to reach beyond these technological enterprises, into more areas of our society as governments, politics and even people and this was a topic for several presentations during the conference.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at SXSW, 2019
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest congresswoman ever and responsible for the most popular session at this year’s SXSW mean that the fear-making of that the government will take over everything should instead be redirected to the opposite, that instead we should be scared that corporations have taken over our government, emphasizing how we are in confusing and distrustful times.
Neil Pasricha spoke about how trust is record low despite that we are the most well off we have ever been; we have low trust for governments, people and companies. Rohit Bhargava also appointed one of his seven non-obvious trends to being “Retro-trust”, because in a world where we are so skeptical, we tend to look back to the things we used to know – usually from an earlier point in time.
Big tech knows more about you than you do
The previous mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, Roger McNamee, directs his criticism towards big tech in general. The problem being that the business model is based on tracking humans – tracking that is made in more ways than we comprehend. The tracking itself might not be so harmful, even if it concerns everything from wellness to our credit card history, but rather what is done the information.
Companies have turned their users from being customers to being data points that are fed into an algorithm that has become the real product. This product is in turn being sold to new customers leaving the original users without any control or understanding of the consequences.
You’re in the trust business, once people lose trust you’re screwed. You can see it in the usage numbers.
– Roger McNamee, Author of Zucked
Given all the data that big tech companies have, they could provide us with much helpful information about us and our futures. However, their incentives are somewhere at the opposite of this; instead the information is sold to the highest bidder. For example, a company can predict that you will suffer from deteriorating health and instead of being incentivized to tell you this, they feed this information to your insurance company that may raise your premium.
The question we need to start asking is whether it should be legal for any company or person to do commerce by acquiring, selling and trading our private data without our explicit consent for that specific type of transaction.
Moreover, to use machine learning and AI to take prescriptive actions steering users to react based on previous actions, make the tools even more valuable as it constantly improves their accuracy. Still, the worst part is not that it is happening, but that it has happened without us really knowing.
Apple emphasizes that it will have no access to Apple card users’ transaction data
and card issuer Goldman Sachs will not sell that data to third parties.
The result is that behavioral modification of corporations and specifically big tech is a major part of our lives. And as media starts reporting on it, trust is heavily violated and we react, which is shown in the usage numbers (of eg. Facebook). “Facebook is one of the greatest business models ever executed, but it’s hostile to humans”
McNamee asks why it is legal for cellular companies to sell our location? Why is it legal for health and wellness to sell that data? Why is it legal for any player on the web to transact web history? Why is it even legal for anyone to collect data for underage people? What are the terms? He means that we at least need to start talking about it, have the discussions and bring more light to the topics. Educate, delve on what is okay and not. We need to debate and decide whether it should be legal for any company or person to do commerce by selling, trading and acquiring our private data without our explicit submission for that specific transaction. “I don’t want to live in totalitarian country – my life is more regulated by the algorithms of these companies”.
We need to steer the intent, and perhaps steer it as to regulation; the models of big tech can already be used to predict certain future diseases per individual basis, and potentially notify the affected person. Albeit, their incentives are somewhere at the opposite of this; this information instead gets sold to the highest bidder – like an insurance company raising your premium.
Multiple points of vulnerability
It is not solely the tracking by big corporations and misuse of that data that scares us and cause distrust. Devices and increasingly complex and sophisticated systems of connectivity make way for new kinds of possible crashes. Malcolm Gladwell raises his concerns in a discussion on autonomous driving, whilst the founders of Avast Garry Kasparov and Ondrej Vlcek speak about how consumers face multiple points of vulnerability with the increased number of connected devices.
Smart home devices…
Avast founder Garry Kasparov remarks that it is quite comical that during the soviet reign, surveillance devices had to be sneaked into peoples’ homes, but today we gladly let an Alexa into our home. The majority of online households have five or more connected devices, with many categories going beyond regular devices such as computers, consoles, printers – to light bulbs, coffee makers and toothbrushes. All of these become part of the same network and breaking into one of them is enough for someone to access the entire network and all information on it.
Most devices are weak because of credentials; weak password, use of default log-in details or such. And it really only takes one device for an attacker to penetrate a network and to eventually take complete control of the home. Unfortunately, people tend to not think about security until something has already happen.
Malcolm Gladwell engaged in a discussion on autonomous cars and connected vehicles, emphasizing that cyberthreats and hacking into this kind of connected systems, should be something to worry about. When benefits of technology can be fully materialized the promise is that autonomous vehicles will be safer than human driving.
Gladwell raises his concern that even if taking away the human elements of driving ultimately could close the gap of traffic-related fatalities, there will still be accidents – but other kinds, more unexpected and possibly catastrophic. If one car’s speaker gets hacked that is not the end of the world. But if all cars of a certain brand are hacked and their breaks would stop at the same time it would be an extreme danger.
Malcolm Gladwell and Chris Urmson at SXSW, 2019
Gladwell believes that we have to start thinking, discussing and preparing for this – much more than we do right now. If we want to feel comfortable with the rapid development taking place for not just autonomous vehicles but for all connected things, we need to handle the huge unanswered question of cybersecurity.
Gladwell expresses that as of today, he does not feel comfortable waking up to scandals every other day. He also points out that in order for benefits of self-driving vehicles to the extent that traffic is perfectly planned diminishing congestion and accidents, the system needs to be fully automatic – if human driving and autonomous driving coexist it might even cause more problems.
In addition, to fully utilize the power of self-driving and automated vehicles, the notion of ownership, kinds of vehicles and privacy vs freedom needs to be revised, requiring a completely social and behavioral adaptation from all of us – which will be much dependent on politicians and regulators in the end. This is why a heavier focus on cybersecurity as well as discussing and exploring the social effects of self-driving vehicles will be vital for the development to be beneficial.
According to Gladwell, Silicon Valley tend to be a bit blasé on risks with internet safety. On that note, CEO and Co-Founder of Aurora, a provider of technology for self-driving vehicles, mean that they are not differentiated on the basis of security yet, and companies that manage to have trust and security as a differentiator will have a viable and sustainable value proposition.
The movement of self driving vehicles taking place in a broader context, and cybersecurity it’s the huge unanswered. I would be happy not to wake up to news every day about how 2 million data points are hacked. This is not the time to start with the self-driving cars then.
– Malcolm Gladwell, Executive Director of Autonomy
Recreating trust through corporate strategy and proactive behaviors
Even though we can and should require these companies to build devices, systems and networks that are secure, we also need to do our part. We still like to lock our own doors – which means we need to be proactive. This is why we need simple actions to protect us from cyber threats, in the same way as we physically protect ourselves: through everyday hygiene. We wash our hands and brush our teeth. Even if this does not protect us from all danger– it comes a long way in preventing certain trouble. We expect machines to solve problems for us, but we still need to take action in protecting ourselves from the machines.
…trust as differentiator
Moving products from the “physical world” to a connected world means that old-school manufacturers need to start thinking about cybersecurity – as their traditional devices or machines become vulnerable to security threats. Ultimately, trust is a differentiator for companies and a focus on security will be one way to stay relevant for consumers in an era where trust is low. As our connected systems become more complex, and the companies active in these are historically not differentiated in cyber security, the more companies will need to focus on these issues – not just digital players.
Playing with trust
“The Perfect Candidate”. To combat low trust in politicians and governments and to address the worry for fake news, the Australian Futures Project created a virtual politician who transparently and comprehensively represents issues Australians care most about.
Download the report here!
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SXSW is one of the biggest digital conferences in the world, and a global meeting place for the world’s most innovative technology companies and people interested in how disruption can transform their business and everyday lives. The event takes place during during 10 days each year and this year Cartina had the chance to be part of it.
This series consists of 6 global mega trends that business leaders, experts, innovators and disruptors talked about during the days in Austin.
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