Dakota Digital Review

The Pandemic is Accelerating Digital Transformation: Downsides & Remedies

Premier Issue

Mark Hagerott, PhD, Chancellor, North Dakota University System

Human society faces disruption and tumultuous change far more unprecedented and historic than a pandemic.i Rapid, digital technological change is the big story, the paradigm transforming narrative, the potential birth-pangs for a post COVID-19 world that if we allow it, may privilege digital machine systems over humans and human-centric systems. Paradoxically, COVID mitigation policies may promote human welfare in the short term but undermine human community, health and culture in the long term. Furthermore, technological systems create their own inertia, and if not managed carefully, tend to “lock in” early decisions and patterns of use, making it difficult to reverse mistakes. It is thus imperative that our leaders act now to reconsider the unintended second and third order effects of our COVID responses. Otherwise, harmful consequences for human-centric systems, humanity and human values may occur and become “locked in” and perhaps irreversible.

Do I exaggerate the portent of the challenge? Current events stand as a testament to the massive scale and scope of the socio-technical forces in play, as well as the desperate, well-meaning but confused human reaction. Ponder with me the headlines. American cities burned, and a cacophony of voices called for radical action, some to remake our nation into a socialist state.ii While warehouses, factories and office spaces emptied of humans, computer servers and robots proliferated more widely. Internet traffic increased exponentially, pouring wealth into corporate digital data centers and cloud companies. COVID-stressed, human-centric companies face bankruptcy, yet already massive digital companies hit record-high capitalization. Congress considers bailing out some companies but at the same time ponders the regulation or even break up of one or more digital giants.iii Years before the pandemic, and worsening now, our nation witnessed a rising level of youth depression, suicide and loneliness as the use of digital devices and social media sites increased.iv Lastly, as digital systems grow, so does disinformation, fake news and cyberhacking, while the truth becomes opaque. How can we frame these events in a way that allows us to look beyond the daily headlines? What risks do these forces pose to human society and our families? How has COVID energized digitization, and most importantly, what should we do?

Framework of How Technology is Disrupting Society

The most powerful force of change, and a threat to the well-being of much of human-centric society if left unmanaged, is the uncontrolled, accelerating invention and adoption of digital technology, and the growing concentration of power associated with it. A multitude of increasingly intelligent digital inventions—robotic and in cyberspace—pile one upon another, exerting socioeconomic change on a grand scale at the macro level of how work and social interaction is carried out. Digital technology is changing the very structure of life, society and economy and, as recent evidence shows, is actually reducing human-centric wellbeing and even future business and commerce.

To be sure, changing technologies have reshaped society and economies in the past. At the small scale, or micro level, people are compelled many times in their lifetimes to adapt to one technology or another. One can think of the shift from manual to automatic transmission in cars; from train to airline travel; from handwriting to typewriters; from factory floors full of wrench-turning workers to factories, where humans operated wrench-turning machines. In all these cases, humans were present and still in control. But something began to change at the socioeconomy’s macro-level as technology began to digitize. Our socioeconomy has been inundated with waves of digital innovations. Typed letters were replaced by email, and now intelligent email assistants draft letters. Factories and warehouses with intelligent robots hold few if any human workers, and therefore, they remain dark while the machines work. Offices were once full of humans thinking and working with desktop computers and spreadsheets, but now the data is analyzed in “the cloud” by increasingly intelligent “self-learning” algorithms. Friends used to be those of our physical neighborhoods and schools but now can be anywhere, or they may not be human at all, as in the case of “Alexa.” Games used to be played on game boards in a basement but now are massive multiple-player games played simultaneously across the globe, where you can play against artificial algorithms without human competitors. With the explosion of advanced digital technology, literally trillions of chips, sensors, computers, autonomous machines, and what may be a Turing-like breakthrough in AI, we are witnessing macro change, the emergence of new artificial worlds. Reduced to its simplest, a planet that was dominated by a realm of human-centric activity is now being joined by two other realms of activity. The other realms are that of the autonomous or near autonomous intelligent robotics and that of the entirely virtual, non-tactile, realm of cyberspace or internet. This creates an interlocking triad I call the “Human, Robotic and Cyber Realms.”

Pictured in Figure 1 is a two-dimensional rendering of the three realms: the realm of human-centric activity, the realm of robotic systems and the realm of cyberspace.v Until very recently, human-centric social, economic, technological and military systems dominated the world. While natural systems of plant and animal life existed, they continued to exist at the will (or some would say, whim) of human-centric systems. But human-centric technology was generally limited to augmenting natural human capabilities to act with greater precision or at a distance (for example, the typewriter enhanced human written communication on paper, the telephone carried the human voice at greater distances than one could yell, the ship and plane and train carried humans and cargo but were piloted by humans). Humans provided the highest-level cognition of systems, even if machines did more of the heavy lifting in carrying and transmitting human-processed information. But the invention of intelligent and speedy computer processors, combined with advanced engineering, have created these two digital realms of activity. The socioeconomic-military activity emerging between artificial actors in these two realms can now occur with little or no direct human control. The emergence of the realms of robotic systems and cyberspace are moreover near simultaneous and will both challenge the privileged place of human-centric systems, which has defined history to this point.vi

The emergence of these two digital realms was perhaps inevitable, and the benefits of these two new realms should be acknowledged. Much of the work done in these realms by advanced robotics and AI-infused cyberspace could not have been done by any number of humans themselves nor with human-directed machines. If that is as far as the implications went, humans would be fine … but … there is more.

Social & Ethical Implications of the Two Digital Realms

Society is now experiencing the symptoms that accompany the emerging nexus where the human realm overlaps with two new realms, robotic and cyber. Most humans are only now becoming dimly aware that many of the social-distress symptoms afflicting our nation arise out of being human in proximity to emerging digital technology. What are some of the most visible symptoms of this emergence?

Record-shattering socioeconomic inequality is the most obvious indication. To those who control the rights and patents to digital machines and algorithms, the amount of wealth and power being created is eye-popping. Financial benefits accrue to only a small portion of the population, with large swaths of the country left behind or left insecure. Imbalances in wealth are expanding such that eight men—just eight—own more wealth than the world’s poorest three billion people combined, a trend to which the digital revolution is a major contributor. The per capita income of the tech hubs is swelling, and their associated universities’ endowments are bulging with record billions.

In contrast, where cyberspace and digital machines intersect with regions, cities and households outside the tech hubs, signs of distress mount. Darkening clouds of hacking and privacy abuses, misinformation and disinformation, and lack of equal access cast a shadow of social, employment and political insecurity. The workers and wages outside the tech hubs and digital professions are coming under increased pressure, and there is no certainty that an advanced digital economy can absorb the human workforce, a possibility considered by Brynjolfsson and McAfee in their book, The Race Against the Machine.vii

Moreover, the rise of digital giants, such as Google and Facebook, has not been healthy for start-up businesses, and entrepreneurship rates in the United States have been declining since the 1990s. Conditions are such that numerous forward-looking leaders, including some who spoke at the Davos World Economic Forum, have warned of the potential destabilization of society.

Also alarming, we are seeing a rapid increase in child depression and suicide, a major shift that scientists increasingly associate with the widespread penetration of society by the highly advanced communication and computational device, the smart phone, and the growth of social media sites.viii A multitude of digital creators, the insiders of these companies, have recently argued that we, our children, our families, our fellow Americans are NOT customers but are the product. At the same time, our information given freely away is being monetized for the benefit of the few at the cost of the many. This possibility has been documented recently in a Netflix special, “Social Dilemma.”ix The insiders confess that they and their digital social media companies took deliberate action that risked further digital addiction, especially of teen users, purposely diverting a teen’s time and energy to internet content and away from healthier physical or cognitive activities.x

Lastly, human-centric cultural values, the values attached to humans and human life, are being affected by the emergence of these two realms of intelligent machines. And, history shows, the cultural effects may be radical. Consider the changes to the once dominant natural-human economy before industrialization. Humans, nature and animals were closely connected by work, but also by culture. We all know the paradigm-shifting rise of megacities and the decline of rural areas, and the associated changes to family bonds, marriage, size of families and to church.

Also interesting is to reflect on human attachment to animals, in particular, the human-horse relationship that existed in our nation in the last century. The fact that horses were conscious beings, and as we see from so many movies and books, valued in our culture and deeply connected to humans, all meant very little when confronted with industrialization and the resulting changes in work efficiency of tractors and later, trucks and automobiles.xiCity and highway ordinances and norms changed radically to make horses unwelcome in proximity to most humans, no matter how attached the owners were to their favorite mount. Thus, when we consider whether conscious humans could ever be devalued by efficient but nevertheless unconscious machines, we should remember the shift in values in the rural and human- animal centric culture. And, to be clear, I am not suggesting that government policy will overtly value machines over human laborers, but rather, cultural norms will be reshaped by those who control digital technology, and the longstanding value of many human beings may be devalued.

How Has COVID Accelerated This Trajectory?

As we assess the effects of technology in the time of COVID, it is important to acknowledge that technology has provided enormous medical benefits as the world fights the pandemic, especially for elderly persons or persons with comorbidities, who may require hospitalization. And for those quarantined at home or in a dorm, digital technology has helped reduce isolation while providing social outlets, distance learning and telehealth. But what of the other effects, first order and beyond?

With the pandemic, the shift in resources from direct contact, human-centric systems to those more technological has accelerated. The COVID-19 virus, just as pathogens that caused pandemics in the past, attacks individual humans, and predictably, government mitigation strategies dramatically reduce human-to-human contact. Unlike 1918, digital technology today makes possible social distancing and depopulating workplaces on an epic scale, pushing humans apart more frequently and at greater distances.

Let us explore the effects of this dynamic more fully:

Wealth & Income Inequality:
While many of Big Tech’s helping hands have been wonderful in the short term, our society has handed back enormous wealth into these hands, resulting in a massive shift in resources. By some reports, as tens of millions of people were losing their non-digital jobs due to COVID, the number of billionaires in the United States increased rapidly—the direct and indirect beneficiaries of the rapid shift of more resources to the digital economy.xii As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, the capitalization of advanced tech companies now makes up more of all stock markets than at any time since dot-com mania.xiii

Employment & Workplace Effects:
The workforce with limited digital skills is shouldering the main effects of COVID. These employees are on the proverbial front line, both of exposure to the disease and the disruption to employment caused by the drop in economic activity in the human realm. We all can see the FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) stocks growing at record pace. While FAANG hires, millions of customers (people) retreat from human-centric industries, such as hotels, restaurants and airlines, and tens of thousands of front-line workers lose their jobs or fall ill.xiv Shopping goes virtual at a record pace. Department stores and malls, also a physical meeting place for humans, empty out and record numbers file for bankruptcy. But on the flip side, companies such as Amazon, which are built around increasing robotic warehouses and internet checkout counters, become among the most valuable companies in history.xv Robots can do more of the work, not just in massive warehouses. Now we are seeing the rapid adoption of robotics in fast food and restaurant service, perhaps permanently displacing human connection and jobs.xvi Human-centric systems come under pressure and may fail and NEVER COME BACK, while digital tech companies grow stronger. This dichotomy holds portentous implications for the longer term.

Community & Health Effects:
Given the option of digital technology, churches, hotels, in-person friend groups all come under pressure or, in the best case, migrate to the cyberspace of Zoom or other social media companies. While many physical sports programs and physical campuses stand largely empty, distant education and e-sports flourish. The longer-term effects on health and young people’s adoption of more sedentary patterns of activity may well increase obesity and other ailments. And what about sleep? As corporate headquarters are shut down,xvii and digital workers can “work from anywhere,” the effects on geographic time zones and sleep cycles of employees may further decouple from natural circadian cycles. Will workers’ geographic time clocks and sleep cycles be respected, or will they be expected to conform to the location of the disaggregated headquarters, which may be the CEO’s home? Worse yet, will employees lose their refuge of home and weekend and be on call 24 hours a day, as long as they sleep with their smart phones?

Addiction, Depression & Loneliness:
The shift of time spent, energy, employment and money from the human realm to the profiting robotic and cyberspace realms are clear. However, we are only dimly aware of second and third order effects of this shift on the human spirit, peace of mind, and thus on depression, loneliness and addiction. There are early indications that the isolation caused by COVID has in fact increased such negative social outcomes.xviii xix As progressively more people spend more time physically isolated but “connected” online, it is almost certain that this trajectory will increase social-media addiction.

Cultural Values:
Changing cultural values—rather than unemployment or distorted financial markets— may be the most important long-term effects of accelerated digital transformation. We already discussed the changes to the once dominant rural and horse culture that existed in our nation before industrialization. In the rush to battle COVID by allowing digital machines to mediate human community on a massive scale, it is possible our cultural defenses against future intrusive technology may be weakened.xx Policy, law, ethics and norms are the building blocks of culture and may already be in transition due to the rushed reaction to the pandemic. In a reinforcing loop, policies and norms now being adopted may further replace human connection with technology and perhaps even devalue human contact. The proliferation of more robots in restaurants, a place where humans “break bread,” may be an early example of culture in flux. The massive expansion of distance learning at the expense of in-person human contact in the classroom, especially for K-12 schoolchildren, may be a second early sign of cultural deformation. And who can miss the empty sports stadiums and possible longer-term implications? Will fans prefer to skip the tailgaters and crowded stadiums, and instead enjoy the game experience mediated by a smart phone? But if this challenge isn’t urgent enough, another factor needs to be considered: the likelihood that our rushed COVID reactions may effect irreversible change, which is suboptimal for human-centric culture in the longer run.

Inertia & Irreversibility of Socio-Technical Systems

Some readers and leaders, overwhelmed by the crush of immediate challenges, may not want to consider the longer-term second and third-order consequences of our COVID response. They may prefer to “let our children figure out the balance between good and bad.” But to focus only on the short term is quite frankly an evasion of a most profound socio-technical responsibility. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when technologies began to have societal-wide implications, the first generation of humans to use a new technology shouldered disproportionate responsibility for the good-and-bad balance that ultimately “locked in” for the long term. Technological systems have a strong tendency to develop inertia, to “lock in” during the early stages, a fact discovered some years ago in the study of information machines— the QWERTY keyboard of the 1860s typewriter still defines our smart phones today—and the placement of road and power systems.xxi Thus the professoriate, political classes, clergy, business leaders, NGOs and indeed every “customer” or human product, and especially parents, are now responsible to think for the long term, for generations to follow. Which brings us to our next question. What to do?

Creating a More Human-Centric Future

Before I discuss recommended actions, I need to address the digital advocates who believe no action is required to promote human-centric systems. Some Silicon Valley leaders hold that current market forces and unmanaged technological trends most certainly improve human welfare, and that recent COVID shocks to human-centric systems will produce universally positive and needed structural changes.xxii

But they are wrong. The systems now coming to dominate our economy, accelerated by COVID, cannot naturally reprioritize human welfare. Why not? They are not human in their nature, but innately inhuman and unnatural. The existence of two artificial, unnatural realms of digital machines that do work and come between humans and thereby displace natural human contact is absolutely unprecedented in history. In the last pandemic in 1918, human-centric systems maintained their centrality of social and economic life, because there was no alternative to intelligent humans. In 2020, trillions of intelligent machines, AI, machine learning algorithms and robots are emerging. Stated another way: In the 1918 post-pandemic recovery, humans had to come together to communicate or work at a modest distance. Now technology can take the place of human contact and displace vital human institutions at a distance and in cyberspace. Thus, to improve human welfare, we need deliberate action by the leading organizations—federal, state, business and philanthropic—to promote human reconnection. So, what should they do?

First, expand support to human-centric jobs and companies. The levers of government and business need to encourage the resumption of natural in-person human contact and connection and direct investment in humancentric companies (for example, restaurants, theaters, retail stores with foot traffic, gyms, airlines, hotels and tourism). There is indeed a calculated risk to bring people back together earlier rather than later. Currently, the risk-benefit calculation has been biased toward physical spread of the virus, aggregate economic metrics and, in some corners, political agendas. Models do not account for longer-term effects. Without deliberate investment in humancentric jobs and companies, structural changes put in motion by government policy during the pandemic may gain unstoppable momentum to the detriment of our society.

Second, support the human “caring economy” and reconsider our models and metrics for a healthy society. Aggregate demand and GDP numbers are inadequate metrics for human wellbeing, a critique that was gaining credibility long before COVID.xxiii Our government’s policy models are woefully inadequate to capture the second and third order societal effects, beginning with mental health but also community vitality. Our government and businesses must support the physical, natural human community interaction, perhaps to include direct payments or subsidies to churches, community groups and other civic organizations that promote human contact, once the short-term crisis is past.

Third, we need a major new national investment program in both K-12 and higher education that focuses on the digital transformation of our society and economy. We need more people to understand the digitizing world, to be able to compete for good digital jobs but also to help “civilize”xxiv these digital machines. There are currently federal legislative proposals to massively expand advanced technology R&D, but this concentrates control in Washington DC, and spending flows mainly to universities in large urban areas.

The QWERTY keyboard of the 1860s typewriter still defines our smart phones today. The name comes from the order of the first six keys on the top left letter row of the keyboard.

Moreover, it neglects the humanities and thus does little to help universities, students and faculty think through and “civilize” the machines.xxv An alternative proposal that the next administration in Washington may consider has been published nationally multiple times: my proposal for a state-centric, digital-cyber land-grant system of colleges and universities.xxvi This proposal would build out the existing land-grant universities and other campuses, with support for both digital MACHINE programs and the HUMANITIES.

Additionally, each state should consider what we are doing in North Dakota: the creation of a state digital academy like our Dakota Digital Academy, which is a collaborative effort of all existing campuses to promote understanding of the digital world, prepare for the changed workplace—but also help civilize the digital realms as they emerge in their communities.

Fourth, we must resist the distortion of human-centric culture, a distortion arising from our urgent response to the first order effects of the COVID crisis. Our leading cultural institutions—government, business, academia, religious, labor groups, non-profits—must come together to develop the policy, law, ethics and norms, which will “civilize” the increasingly capable machines and intelligent algorithms that will populate the realms of robots and cyberspace. But how to pull these disparate organizations together? The next federal administration (and perhaps the governors in each state) should convene a task force on “Human Vitality in the Age of Digital Machines,” to develop the needed policies and laws that will protect our human-centric culture. This effort must be deliberate and long term, because COVID is just one shock to the system, the first of many to come. As the pace of technological change accelerates into the future, such a deliberative effort must be sustained, so that humans consciously shape technology rather being shaped by short-term responses to episodic events.

Lastly, assuming the federal government cannot print money forever, there may be a need to identify new financial sources to support the human-centric economy and institutions in the medium to long term. It may thus be time to consider a “windfall profits tax” on digital and social media companies, as a means to provide support to that part of the economy that is human-centric. If such a tax sounds radical, consider that Bill Gates, one of the most thoughtful and generous of our tech elites in the world and perhaps in history, suggested it may be time for a tax on robots to support human society.xxvii

Urgent Dual Threat

A pandemic is not unprecedented in and of itself. But paradigm-changing digital technology, combined with the shock to humanity brought on by COVID,xxviii carries almost unfathomable consequences for the longer term. Words struggle to convey the magnitude of the challenge. Technological breakthroughs of the past couple of decades have created change at the macro level: the emergence of two artificial realms of cyberspace and the robotic. In a desperate attempt to mitigate the short-term problems of COVID, more energy and money has shifted into the digital realms, at the expense of natural, human-centric systems. The challenge of civilizing the digital realms for the benefit of nature and humans cannot be passed to our children, since technological systems have a proven habit of gaining inertia, “locking in” the policy and investment mistakes of early decisions. The challenge is upon this generation of leaders to ensure that the post-COVID era will not privilege the digital machines and the small group who owns them but promote a reinvigorated, natural human society of all Americans.xxix

Mark Hagerott, PhD, serves as the Chancellor of the North Dakota University System. Previously, he served on the faculty of the United States Naval Academy as an historian of technology, a distinguished professor and the deputy director of the Center for Cyber Security Studies. As a certified naval nuclear engineer, Hagerott served as chief engineer for a major environmental project de-fueling two atomic reactors. Other technical leadership positions include managing tactical data networks and the specialized artificial intelligence AEGIS system, which led to ship command. Hagerott served as a White House Fellow and studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. His research and writing focus on the evolution of technology and education. He served on the Defense Science Board summer study of robotic systems and as a non-resident Cyber Fellow of the New America Foundation. In 2014, Hagerott was among the first American military professors to brief the Geneva Convention on the challenge of lethal robotic machines and to argue the merits of an early arms control measure. 

Recent Related Publications:
Robots.” Published in Issues in Science and Technology, a quarterly journal published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and Arizona State University

i McNeill, William H., Plagues and People, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976.

iiThe candidacy of Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist, both in 2016 and 2020 provide the most compelling evidence of the desperate social reactions. But there is indeed something wrong for many Americans, before COVID. See: Desilver, Drew, “For Most U.S. Workers, Wages have Barely Budged for Decades,” by Pew Research Trust, see link: https:// www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/07/for-most-usworkers- real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades.

iii US Department of Justice, on 20 October 2020, filed suit charging GOOGLE with anti-trust violations. See, “Justice Department Files Google Anti-Trust Lawsuit,” by Jason Bellini, Wall Street Journal, 20 October 2020.

iv Twenge, Jean M., iGEN: why today’s super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy—and completely unprepared for adulthood and (what this means for the rest of us), New York: Atria Books, 2017.

v I will use the term “cyber” instead of “virtual” or “internet,” but they could be used interchangeably.

vi This framework has been presented in multiple venues the past 15 years, to include award winning articles on defense strategy (2006); Naval War College (2007); CNA Corporation (2007); presentations at universities in France (2011), Yale (2013), and Annapolis (2014); University of South Dakota (2019); the Geneva Convention CCW (2014); Pentagon (2012), Navy senior leaders (2015), Army senior engineers (2014), National Security Agency/US Cyber Command (2014); Naval Post Graduate School (2016); US TRANSCOM (2017); US Chambers of Commerce annual meeting (2015); TEDx (2016); and a variation of this framework published in American and European edited volumes. This framework was presented most recently at Northern Plains Ethics Institute in November 2019, on the eve of COVID pandemic. COVID adds new urgency to explain what is happening, hence, this essay.

viiBrynjolfsson, Eric and Andrew McAfee, Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, Cambridge: Digital Press, 2011.

viii Twenge, Jean M., iGEN. Again, the U.S. Department of Justice, in a Republican Administration no less, has filed an antitrust lawsuit against GOOGLE of the Alphabet Corporation, in October 2020.

ix Links to this report can be found here: https:// www.netflix.com/title/81254224.

x A former internet startup executive, Tristan Harris, has begun a movement in Silicon Valley around the idea of reducing the exploitation of humans and especially teens. See his website, https://www.humanetech.com.

xi The plight of the horse in the Industrial Age is addressed by numerous books, but the connection to the devaluation of conscious beings in favor of efficient machines is made stark in recent work by Yuval Harari. See Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, London: Vintage Books, 2017.

xii Izabela Cardoso & Fernando Teixeira, BBC Reel, “Should We Have Billionaires,” 28 October 2020.

xiii Ramkumar, Ramith, “Tech’s Influence on Market Eclipses Dot-Com Bubble Peak,” Wall Street Journal, Oct 16, 2020.

xiv Reed, Dan, “As Layoffs of 30,000 Workers Begin, the Airlines will Never Be the Same,” Forbes, 1 October 2020, see link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielreed/2020/10/01/ airline-layoffs-american-united-southwest.

xv Lord and Taylor, in business since the early 19th century, was just one of the victims of Covid. See, https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/27/business/lord-andtaylor- store-closures-bankruptcy/index.html

xvi There are almost too many articles to cite. To start with, see TIME Magazine report of August 2020, https://time.com/5876604/machines-jobs-coronavirus/.

xvii REI is one of many companies closing or rethinking the need to concentrate workforce and executive teams in geographic headquarters. See Forbes report here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/retailwire/2020/08/18/rei-sells-itsheadquarters-others-should-take-notice/?sh=355de7873166.

xviii Pinsky, Drew, Presentation at “Recovery Reinvented,” Bismarck, ND, October 2020.

xix Shockley, Dr. Ellie, “Student Achievement from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020, North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, November 19, 2020.

xx An early visionary on the potential threat to human culture by rapid technological change was Neil Postman, former Dean of Columbia’s School of Journalism. See his book, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. See especially chapter 5, “Broken Defense.”

xxi For historical examples and theories of the strong tendency of technological systems to ‘lock in’ or gain ‘technological momentum’, see works by Paul David, “QWERTY,” available on the internet here: https://econ.ucsb.edu/~tedb/Courses/Ec100C/DavidQwerty.pdf See also Thomas Hughes, Networks of Power, on the momentum of technological systems. See Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology, on the tendency of humans to reverse-adapt their value and culture to these systems once they gain momentum.

xxii At a recent Singularity University session on human workforce on October 21, 2020, Dr. Homi Kharas of Brookings suggested that COVID is accelerating humanity down the preferred path of development. I found such a comment alarming and value-laden, to say the least. Then another panelist, Dr. Wolfgang Fengler drew an analogy to how his mother was a typist, and how the word processor saved her so much time, therefore, technology will just keep making things better for humanity. These comments left me speechless in the chatroom
… where to begin to engage such short-sighted thinking?

xxiii For a recent discussion of the inadequacy of reducing measures of wellbeing to GDP and employment calculations, see Michael J. Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012.

xxiv This was a challenge to our ancestors when the macro-changes engulfed society moving from agriculture to industrialization, a shift to many non-digital machines. See John Kasson, Civilizing the Machine: Technology and Republican
Values in America, 1776-1900, New York: Penguin, 1976.

xxv It is especially important that rural and outlying states receive their share of the massive research monies now poised to flow to universities, that may amount to over $100 billion as the NSF is restructured (the Endless Frontier Bill, proposed by Senator Schumer, link here: https://www.schumer.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/with-the-support-of-new-yorksleading-tech-innovators-schumer-announces-bipartisan-endlessfrontier-act-bolstering-us-leadership-in-scientific-researchand-innovation-dramatically-increase-investment-in-buildingnew-tech-hubs-in-upstate-ny ). It is heartening that the federal government and congressional leaders appreciate the magnitude of the challenge of AI/networks/robotics, but most of those resources are slated to be invested in already large urban areas,
large universities. Furthermore, there is little money assigned to the humanities/liberal arts at universities, where the civilizing process happened when the land grant system of colleges and universities were established in response to the last great MACRO technological event, the Industrial Revolution.

xxvi See the Winter edition of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, Issues.org, and proposal by Dr. Mark Hagerott, “Time for a Digital Cyber Land Grant System”, link here: https://issues.org/time-for-a-digital-cyber-landgrant-system/ See also The Chronicle of Higher Education, by Mark Hagerott, “Time for Silicon Valley to Help Rural America: Here’s How.” See special edition of the Chronicle, published September 2018, link here: https://www.chronicle.com/article/silicon-valley-must-help-rural-america-heres-how/.

xxvii Waters, Richards, “Bill Gates Calls for an Income Tax on Robots”, Financial Times, 19 February 2017, link here: https://www.ft.com/content/d04a89c2-f6c8-11e6-9516-2d969e0d3b65.

xxviii Bhattarai, Abha and Denham, Hannah, “Stealing to Survive: More Americans Are Shoplifting Food as Aid Runs Out in the Pandemic,” The Seattle Times, December 10, 2020.

xxix Goodwin, Jazmin, “MacKenzie Scott Donates $4.2 Billion to 384 Organizations,” CNN Business, December 15, 2020. 

Welcome to Our Premiere Issue

Covering the cyber sciences as well as related legal, political, regulatory, social and ethical issues, and digitization’s impact on the arts. The review is written and edited for the general educated reader. It is vitally important that residents throughout the region—whether working in government or business, or who are retired—become fluent and engaged in cyber sciences and their ramifications. Articles are written mostly by faculty and students but not to promote their universities. Instead, higher education’s intellectual resources are being mobilized statewide to serve the public beyond the campus. Dakota Digital Review, along with public talks and forums, will help elevate discussions and debates about digitization, facilitating far better preparation of government and business and of voters to make crucial decisions about our future.

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