The new year has already been a blur in many ways. From an international crisis to the continued focus on the presidential election this fall, 2020 has the potential to be a history-making year. But another set of stories that should capture our attention are those focused on the continued rise of technology and the influence it exerts on our daily lives. These tools have an outsized influence on how we communicate with one another, the type and quality of information we receive, and even how our economy and governments function.
At the beginning of what seems to be another consequential year, it is wise to be reminded of some of the most important technology stories and how they are shaping our public square. While we aren’t able to predict some of the most important technological developments that are to come, here are four major technology issues that each of us need to be aware of as we seek to honor God and love our neighbor in 2020.
Ongoing privacy debates and possible legislation
January 1 brought about the initial enforcement of the California Consumer Privacy Act, a first-of-its-kind piece of privacy legislation in the United States. Without a federal privacy law, and by nature of being the first major privacy legislation to be enacted in the states, this California law is the defacto law of the land. While the CCPA was signed into law in 2018, it took effect this year, and the state’s Attorney General Becerra is set to begin full enforcement on July 1. This law requires companies to meet certain transparency and openness standards about the data collected on each of us by their services every day.
Many privacy advocates are not satisfied with the current version of the law and hope to enact stronger protections and regulations in the near future, while others argue that the CCPA is an overly broad and burdensome regulation that will dampen innovation and investment in new technologies. Regardless of its merit or shortsightedness, CCPA will likely serve as a test case for other state’s privacy regulations and may force the hands of many in Congress to enact a federal law. Debate continues in Washington, D.C., on the possibility of a federal law and whether or not it should override the Golden State’s regulation.
Outside of privacy law, 2020 has the potential to be a big year in digital privacy rights with a renewed interest in the type of data companies collect on the public and how it is used. This year has already started off with an FTC settlement over protecting the privacy of children who use Youtube as well, so expect to see further legislation and issues arise from how our children use technology in their daily lives in light of the rise of online abuse and consumption.
Ethics and artificial intelligence
Whether you realize it or not, you interact with and use artificial intelligence nearly every moment of the day. From your social media feeds and online activity to your banking and our national security, AI drives much of our society, especially most modern technological innovations. But as AI has taken off in our society and around the world, there are many pressing ethical and social issues surrounding how this technology is developed, maintained, and implemented in our daily lives. Questions abound around the impact of AI on our work, families, and even our standing in the world regarding international crises and human rights.
On Jan. 8, the United States unveiled a new set of regulations and guidelines for the development and use of artificial intelligence. The guidelines released by the Trump administration seek to provide a framework for American values that many hope to set the stage for international cooperation. Just last April, ERLC released a set of AI principles to help equip the Church to think wisely about the rise of AI in our society and how best to maintain an ethic of human dignity with these powerful technologies.
Throughout 2020, there will undoubtedly be thorny ethical issues surrounding AI in our daily lives, such as in medical diagnosis, drone and weapon technology, and even in bias and discrimination cases. In March 2020, my new book, The Age of AI, will release with Zondervan, and I hope it will help the Church to engage these tough ethical and moral issues with the clarity of God’s Word.
Deepfakes and fake news
A deepfake is a video of someone saying and maybe even doing things that they never did in reality. These fake videos are created on computers using AI technology that allows the creator to use existing footage of an individual. These videos can be created by anyone who has access to the right computers, software, and knowledge. They are incredibly realistic and pose a real threat to society.
As we began the year, Facebook announced that it would be banning these videos from its platform as a lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. While these videos haven’t been used in extremely malicious ways as of yet, there are bound to be fake videos developed soon in order to sway public opinion or even to disrupt our society. While lawmakers scramble to provide some sort of legislation to stop these fake videos, many technology companies are trying to develop deepfake detection software to stop them from being shared on social media and video-hosting platforms.
While major news events may seem bleak as the nations continue to rage, Chrisitans have hope knowing that nothing in this world is outside of God’s control and guiding hand.
Deepfakes are just another example of how fake news is on the rise in our society and how Christians need to think wisely about the information we receive, what we share online, and how we seek the good of our neighbors and society in the digital age.
International authoritarian abuses
Behind many of the international stories as of late has been the use and abuse of technology around the world by nations like China, Russia, and Iran. Late in 2019, the Iranian regime shut down internet connectivity to nearly every citizen of the country, essentially cutting the nation off from the rest of the world. This news was followed by the revelation that Russia is attempting a similar shutdown later this spring. All the while, the Chinese regime is constantly in the news regarding its oppression of religious minorities and the lack of basic freedoms its citizens have because of the widespread use of facial recognition and DNA facial mapping technologies.
2020 will likely bring about the exposure of many more travesties related to how technology is used to demean, demoralize, and debase other human beings created in the image of God. We should keep our attention focused on how nations like China continue to wield enormous power over their economic and technology sectors as they continue to restrict free expression and human rights.
It should be no surprise that technology plays such a large role in society and our daily lives. While major news events may seem bleak as the nations continue to rage, Chrisitans have hope knowing that nothing in this world is outside of God’s control and guiding hand. As we engage some of the most pressing issues of our day, especially in regards to the enormous power technology has on each of us, we must remember that we already know the end of the story. We need not fear the unknown because we know the Author and Creator of all (Isa. 43:1).