Future E-Toll Style Technologies Challenge Economy & Ethics


Johannesburg: June 14 2015 – The relative willingness of South Africans to accept digital technologies potentially raises as many problems as it solves, on the ethics, economics, business and mental health fronts, according to Social Futurist Mal Fletcher.

In a paper published today by the London-based international think tank 2020Plus, Fletcher argues that South Africa’s rapid engagement of digital technologies, while bringing benefits, may also see it too quickly adopt under-the-skin payment devices, such as those foreseen in a recent international study by Visa.

 These will raise the possibility of bio-hacking, as we merge physiology with technology and will likely boost the problem of personal debt. They may also create new forms of “technology creep”, where government or business use of tools gradually exceeds the boundaries originally set.

“South Africa’s acceptance of emerging technologies, such as chip-enhanced ID cards, speaks to the nation’s desire to develop quickly,” says Fletcher. However, any programmable device is potentially hackable and the hacking of under-the-skin biochips would render personal privacy even less intrusion-proof.” 

 “Even debates about e-tolls have focused more on the fees levied than the near-field-technologies employed; the same basic technologies behind subcutaneous chips.”

“Commercially-oriented implants appear to be convenient, but they raise serious questions relating to digital debt,” he adds. “The uncoupling of spending from the weightiness of physical cash has doubtless played a key role in boosting personal debt.”

“The ones and zeroes of binary code have no substance at all. Implanted chips will continue to erode the link in human consciousness between spending and real-world value, further encouraging people to spend without forethought.”

Mal Fletcher cites studies linking “digital dementia” to our growing reliance on technologies as extensions of the human frame.

He asks, “Will conditions we now associate with dementia – such as the loss of short-term memory and numeracy skills and feelings of confusion – become normal cognitive function as we increasingly cede areas of our thinking to machines?”

Already, British children as young as five are exhibiting borderline autism-like symptoms. They are unable to read the subtle facial signals in normal human conversation because of their engagement with digital screens.

Fletcher argues that payment chips would also bring huge potential pitfalls for companies and business regulators. These include significant financial and brand costs as a result of data theft, a reduction in public trust as the human frame is commodified and the perception that Big Data was morphing into Big Brother.

South Africa derives real benefits from its early adoption of new digital tools. These have helped it leapfrog other nations, technologically. However, the speed with which new technologies are developed should not outstrip public debates on ethics.

“Big Data has brought great benefits,” concludes Fletcher. “The answer is not in taking a luddite approach.”

“However, the potential benefits of digital technologies should not make us oblivious to the potential pitfalls, especially those associated with making devices an extension – or an integral part – of the human frame.”

For interviews with Mal Fletcher or further information, please contact 2020Plus at +44(0)8707662660 or by email: media@2020plus.net.

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Mal Fletcher, a Social Futurist, leads the 2020Plus Think Tank based in London. He is a regular commentator for the BBC and other media outlets and is a widely published author, having researched social trends for two decades. He will be in South Africa July 16-20 as the invited guest of the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), the business school of the University of Pretoria.

To read the full article, Future E-Toll Style Technologies Challenge Economics and Ethics, visit 2020plus.net.


© Copyright 2020plus.net with Mal Fletcher

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