Not All Information is Equal

  • 03/21/2019
  • James Preston Allen

Crisis in the Age of Automation

By James Preston Allen, Publisher

There seems to be a very good argument going around these days that says, “You can’t stop the advancement of new technology.” The history of civilization seems to bear this out. The examples are too many to list from the beginning of the Stone Age and the Bronze Age, on down to what is now called the “information age.” Along the way, mankind’s intelligence and perhaps creative mistakes, as well as trial and error, have created some of the most useful solutions to our common problems. But this intelligence is not infallible. Think penicillin and gunpowder, stone tools and nuclear weapons.

Clearly, the lessons of 20th century warfare should inform us that not all inventions are used with the best of intentions nor the most beneficial results for mankind. Chlorine and mustard gases were the scientific inventions of World War I. Only in the aftermath of horrendous battlefield deaths did the world condemn and outlaw chemical warfare — after the war was over. Even so, they are still used today by certain tyrannical regimes to suppress political uprisings in countries like Syria and Iraq. Not all inventions are inherently good.

Over the centuries, communication devices have seen some of the most dramatic innovations that hold a power all their own — the prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux, in southern France, still hold as much creative power today as they did 17,000 years ago, yet they don’t have the instantaneous viral impact of the YouTube video of a mass murder at a mosque in Christ Church, New Zealand. Certainly, the inventors of the smart phone and social media never imagined the current uses and abuses that would come from these.

So from pictographs to the printing press, the telegraph and the telephone, radio and TV, the internet has consolidated it all and supposedly “democratized ” the information. There have been both good and bad results from this.  The defenders of  “you can’t stop it” will say that you have to take the good with the bad and let society or government sort it out afterwards. Now some are suggesting protocols on just what should be censored in this democratized media world. In some countries, like China and Iran, the internet is highly censored and monitored, not by the social media companies, but by the government to suppress dissent.

The biotech scientists who are researching DNA editing don’t think all innovations are good and are regularly meeting to set up international standards, protocols and limitations on genome engineering prior to allowing the spread of this innovation. Not so with artificial intelligence and 5G automation technologies heading our way.

Calamity was created recently when a video of New Zealand’s mass shooting went viral. All the protocols that Google had in place couldn’t stop the spread of this violent hate-filled communication.

Unlike most traditional media the new tech digital companies allow content to be posted “without prior review.”  This is the laissez faire ethos of the Silicon Valley technology class that promised to “democratize” information. They later found that not all information is equal, trustworthy or beneficial. Some of these “platforms” have about as much credibility as rumor and gossip at a barbershop. The investigations into Russian interference in the most recent U.S. presidential election using social media disinformation stands out prominently along these lines and we still haven’t seen the final reports.

Even so, these digital media corporations should be regulated and held to the same standards as any broadcast media using a public utility like the airwaves, the internet or whatever comes next. And, it must clearly be understood that information sharing is not a neutral enterprise, as can be understood in the cyber-warfare capabilities of both our own country and our adversaries. Notice, if you will, the recent cyber attack on the Venezuelan electrical grid after Donald Trump threatened President Nicolas Maduro and called him a “socialist.” Suspicious to say the least.

We can not be surprised that the real border security threats are not from people crossing over our southern border from Mexico but hostile entities who would hack into our computer systems and shut down entire infrastructures.

The Port of Los Angeles is a frequent target of many thousands of hits every month.  In June 2017, one cyber attack put all the APM-Maersk terminals globally offline for 24 hours causing local longshore workers to track containers using old fashioned handwritten tags.  The threat to global trade and our national security are significant concerns as Gene Seroka, the director of the POLA explained recently when asked to speak on this subject to the CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia.

As it stands now, artificial intelligence is the next driver of automation, as well as 5G technology. The experts who know the most about the advancement of artificial intelligence realize that it is not infallible and its use in driverless cars, trucks and other vehicles around our ports and as part of the global trade industry should be of huge concern. The drive towards zero emission vehicles, blue tech solutions in our San Pedro Bay area should not come at the cost of good paying jobs and the adoption of AI technology without strategic planning, retraining of the workforce and the regulation of all AI technologies.

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James Preston Allen

James Preston Allen is the founding publisher of Random Lengths News. Mr. Allen has been involved in community affairs for more than 40 years in the Los Angeles Harbor Area.