Contributed by Dr. Ahmed Imran
Research Leader, Research Cluster of Digital Inequality and Social Change (RC-disc)
Technology is developing at a rapid rate and as a result, it can sometimes feel like our lives are being consumed by a digital bubble.
As a researcher of ICT for development, I often reflect on the impact that these technological advancements have had throughout my career. Admittedly, some of these technological breakthroughs improve our productivity, efficiency and profit, but the considerable damage they can cause to society is often overlooked, particularly in some developing countries and marginalised societies.
Young children in remote places that nevertheless have 5G connectivity are, for example, being exposed to pornography as their very first interaction with the internet. This is often before they have read their first book or begun their basic education. The increasingly unregulated progression of technology is also enabling the emergence of lethal autonomous weapons, so-called ‘killer robots’, and increased criminal activity in cyberspace, all of which threaten the key fundamentals on which humanity and civil society are built.
Research shows that technological advances such as artificial intelligence (AI) and IoTs have contributed to increases in inequality, divisions, and polarisations. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has recently warned the world that technology is moving ahead without control, into unknown territory and with potentially terrible consequences. Now is the time for researchers and developers to prioritise shaping technology through innovation and interventions with more awareness of reducing inequalities and supporting human values.
Privileged groups of people and certain advanced regions usually gain access to new technologies long before those in developing countries and marginalised societies. This occurrence is referred to as the digital divide and it is increasing every single day.
As a result of the digital divide, the accompanying digital inequality (DI) continues to grow across the globe, impacting empowerment, marginalisation, health and wellbeing. Within affluent countries such as Australia, this divide is evident among different demographics, generations, minorities and marginalised groups such as Indigenous communities (National Indigenous Australians Agency, 2021). DI is predicted to continue to grow and is poised to become one of the most vital indicators of gaps in wealth and privilege in years to come (Pick and Sarkar, 2016).
Due to the constantly evolving challenges that the rapid development of technology is causing, the world is yet to understand the complexity and impact that the resulting digital inequalities have on society. This problem can be attributed in part to a lack of attention from stakeholders, researchers and investors, who tend to prioritise the development of advanced technologies including artificial intelligence that will improve efficiency, productivity, and profit, with minimal understanding of the long-term negative consequences to society and humanity.
If you are interested in the social transformations resulting from digitisation or are passionate about social and digital inequality, join our research cluster on digital inequality and social change (RC-disc) at the University of Canberra.
Alternatively, if you would like to support this research, donations are welcome and will ensure we can access the necessary resourcing to make a difference.