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Opinions of Thursday, 12 April 2018

Columnist: Samuel Osei Mensah

The wind of change: Is technology developing too fast?

The last few decades have seen an incredible evolution of our technology, especially when it comes to computers, electronics, and such. Four decades ago, computers entered our homes - today, they are in most homes offices, shops, cars, and even in people's pockets, taking care of their news, music, even their visits to Betway Ghana. The world around us is increasingly connected and reliant on technology. People often find it hard to keep up with this fast evolution of technology - and regulators are often completely outpaced. This can be a major issue in the near future - two recent examples make us wonder if the technology is evolving at a pace that's too fast for us to handle.

Autonomous cars

Scientists have tried to build self-driving cars for almost a century. In the 1930s, industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes proposed a highway system that would remove humans entirely from the process of driving. Since then, the idea has grown into actual products - car makers like General Motors, Toyota, and BMW, along with startups like Uber and Tesla, and tech giants like Google have started working on turning this dream into reality. Some of them have even hit the streets - Tesla delivers some of its models with "Autopilot", Google's self-driving car is being tested in traffic, and Uber's self-driving cars are already roaming the streets. All of them under human supervision, of course.

And they still need quite a bit of work to be done on them. Since rolling out its "Autopilot" update in October 2015, Tesla's cars were involved in several fatal accidents - and in several of the cases, it was the car's fault. Notably, when a Tesla is in Autopilot mode, it requires the driver's full attention - its limitations have been stressed upon by the manufacturer. But this doesn't change the fact that people have died with it on duty. Google's autonomous cars were not involved in any serious accidents to date but they have reported more than a dozen crashes. And Uber's self-driving vehicle has recently been involved in a fatal accident, this time harming a person in the street. And this raises lots of questions about the safety of self-driving vehicles in general - as it should.

Social media

Ten years after its launch, Facebook - and the companies using its data - have come under serious scrutiny, shedding some light on how unprepared and unsuspecting people can be online. Apparently, an analytics company from the UK used popular internet quizzes to gather information about tens of millions of Facebook users, including sensitive data. And this information was used to influence the voters' opinions during the US presidential election by targeting the right type of advertising on the right type of users.

The scandal did have a good side - it has likely decreased people's trust in online platforms. People are careless when going online - they share their personal information, their tastes, their preferences, and their political views without knowing what these can be used for - and what kind of manipulation it exposes them to.

Does technology develop too fast for people to cope? In the light of the two cases described above, the answer seems to be "yes".