Health and Healthcare Systems

How emerging tech could mitigate emerging human crises

A drone flying across mountain tops illustrates how technology can respond to human crises

Can tech come to the rescue amidst a human crises? Image: Photo by Iewek Gnos on Unsplash

Smriti Kirubanandan
Global Director & Head, Strategic Marketing Healthcare and Lifesciences, Tata Consultancy Services
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Tech and Innovation

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  • The emergence of new technologies brings great promise and opportunity for humanity.
  • But, while these technologies offer immense potential for positive change, they also pose new challenges and dilemmas when confronted with complex human crises.
  • By adopting a responsible and inclusive approach, we can harness the power of emerging technologies to address and mitigate human crises, ushering in a paradigm shift towards a more resilient and equitable future.

As the world continues to advance technologically, the emergence of new technologies brings great promise and opportunity for humanity. But, while these technologies offer immense potential for positive change, they also pose new challenges and dilemmas when confronted with complex human problems. Here, I explore the dynamic relationship between emerging technologies and human crises, highlighting the opportunities and ethical considerations that arise from this nexus.

The potential of emerging technologies

Artificial intelligence and automation

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation have the potential to revolutionise various industries, leading to increased efficiency, productivity and convenience. AI-powered systems can automate repetitive tasks, improve decision-making processes and enhance customer experiences. The widespread adoption of AI and automation, however, also raises concerns about job displacement, as machines take over tasks traditionally performed by humans. This technological shift requires proactive measures to reskill and upskill the workforce, ensuring a smooth transition and minimising the negative impact on their well-being and financial state.

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Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) connects everyday objects to the Internet, enabling them to collect and exchange data in an efficient manner. This interconnectedness has the potential to enhance various sectors, including healthcare, transportation and energy management. As more devices become IoT-enabled, however, concerns arise regarding data privacy and security.

The vast amount of sensitive information collected by IoT devices increases the risk of cyberattacks and unauthorised access. It is crucial to develop robust security measures to protect personal data and ensure the safe and ethical use of IoT technologies.

Biotechnology and genetic engineering

Biotechnology and genetic engineering offer unprecedented possibilities for improving healthcare, agriculture and environmental sustainability. Genetic modifications can enhance crop yields, develop disease-resistant organisms and advance medical treatments. However, ethical considerations arise regarding the manipulation of genetic material, the potential misuse of biotechnology and the implications of altering natural ecosystems. There has, for example, been a major shift towards plant-based eating and producing meat-like mimics to promote better health, reducing environmental impact and reducing meat consumption overall. While the benefits are high, the nutritional absorption of plant-based meat analogues (PBMAs) is yet to be studied in detail.

Striking a balance between innovation and responsible use of biotechnology is essential to avoid unforeseen consequences and maintain public trust.

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Virtual and augmented reality

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies have transformed the way we view accessibility and innovation and maintain a close connection to our loved ones and major healthcare procedures, such as surgery. However, excessive reliance on virtual experiences may lead to social isolation, addiction and erosion of real-world connections. Balancing the benefits of virtual experiences with maintaining healthy social interactions is crucial for the well-being of individuals and society. In the United States, for instance, major awareness has been created regarding the epidemic of loneliness and the significant impact it has on our mental and physical health.

Quantum computing

Quantum computing holds the potential to revolutionise computational power and solve complex problems that are currently not feasible for classical computers. Quantum computers can have applications in fields such as cryptography, drug discovery and optimisation. The power of quantum computing, however, also poses risks to cybersecurity, potentially breaking current encryption methods. As quantum computing advances, it becomes necessary to develop new cryptographic algorithms and ensure the security of sensitive information.

The nexus of emerging technologies and human crises

Societal implications

The adoption of emerging technologies can lead to significant societal changes. It can reshape the job market, alter social dynamics and influence power structures. Ensuring equitable access to these technologies and addressing the digital divide is crucial to prevent exacerbating existing social inequalities. Some of the rising concerns are the loss of human connection and the reduced use of our intuition and thinking processes as technologies such as Chat GPT and Predictive AI take precedence.

Additionally, the ethical implications of using emerging technologies, such as AI bias, algorithmic decision-making and privacy concerns, must be addressed to build a fair and just society.

Environmental challenges

Emerging technologies have the potential to contribute to environmental sustainability and address climate change. However, their development and deployment also have environmental consequences. The increasing demand for electronic devices, energy consumption of data centres and e-waste pose challenges for sustainable development.

The World Economic Forum in its - Harnessing Technology for the Global Goals report, identifies the significant role that digital technology can play in improving resilience to global warming-related natural hazards, reducing emissions and enhancing the ability for humans to take the necessary steps to realize net zero. The report identifies how digital technologies can help to automate and significantly improve the efficiency of industrial, manufacturing and agricultural processes. It also shows that AI-based systems could contribute to a reduction of 4% in global emissions by 2030

Although advancements in technologies are closely associated with offering solutions to global warming, the digital discourse also highlights the negative impacts of the widespread use of technology in the context of waste products, resource usage and CO2 emissions.

Ethical considerations

The widespread adoption of emerging technologies raises concerns regarding personal data, privacy and security. Striking a balance between leveraging data for humanitarian purposes and safeguarding individual rights is crucial. While emerging technologies have the potential to alleviate human crises, their benefits should be accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic status, gender or geographical location. Efforts must be made to bridge the digital divide and ensure inclusive access.

We must also focus on the unintended consequences of deploying emerging technologies without proper ethical frameworks and understand that safeguards can have unintended consequences. Understanding potential risks and carefully managing their deployment is essential to prevent exacerbating existing crises or creating new ones.

Addressing the nexus of emerging technologies and human crises requires a multidisciplinary approach and collaboration between various stakeholders, such as public/private partnerships; governments; international organizations; private sector entities; and, civil society. These stakeholders should collaborate to harness the potential of emerging technologies to tackle human crises effectively. Along with convening various stakeholders, clear ethical guidelines and regulations must be established to govern the development and deployment of emerging technologies in crisis scenarios.

The nexus of emerging technologies and human crises presents both opportunities and challenges. By adopting a responsible and inclusive approach, we can harness the power of emerging technologies to address and mitigate human crises, ushering in a paradigm shift towards a more resilient and equitable future.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Health and Healthcare SystemsEmerging Technologies
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