Trust is an inherently human concept. So much so that trying to give a concrete definition of what trust represents to us is a difficult task. After all, trust or the lack of it are ultimately feelings that by nature elude words. However, trust is crucial for understanding any kind of human organization, from the most primitive hunter-gatherer tribes to the most ambitious futuristic society projection. It is what allows us to be sure that - with due exceptions - everything will work as expected: I trust that members of a community will act with good intentions; that teachers will educate children correctly; that companies will not seek economic profits at any cost; that politicians and governing officials will fulfill their duties with commitment and honesty.
Now, although trust is the same feeling, it would be absurd to pretend that it works similarly to how it worked back in prehistory, where tribal societies reached no more than a handful of members. In communities with millions of inhabitants increasingly immersed in technology, it is impossible to know firsthand all the backgrounds. In these societies, we are forced to trust in narratives and stories that maintain us tied to the rest. Our national identity, our values, and our culture are some of the principles that allow us to maintain solid social structures.
It could be thought that, in the technological era, trusting would be easier. With access to information never seen before, it might be logical to assume that it would be simpler to decide where we place our trust. However, the current world is a counter-example to consider. According to OECD studies, only four out of ten people trust their national government. Electoral participation is in constant decline, mainly due to a young population apathetic toward a political class that they do not trust. Moving away from political issues, we also see distrust toward the scientific community, with -almost- harmless things like flat-earthers to treacherous phenomena like the anti-vax movement.
Trust is an element that enables us to empower whatever it is that we feel represented by. And yet, in an advanced world, we are constantly forced to choose between biased narratives that push us to be at odds with each other. Why do we trust what we trust? Is there a rational -algorithmic, if allowed- solution to the matter, or is this a matter of personal subjectivity? Are we forced to continuously deposit our trust blindly, or can we get involved more personally? In a world where it plays the role of a currency, it all seems a matter of trust.
The following texts delve into the main ideas of each of the subtopics of this edition.
The existence of borders is a prerequisite of a world in which cultural and communicational barriers tend to blur. Broadly speaking, a border is the demarcation between what is ours from what is foreign. More specifically, a border typically refers to a political or geographical limit whose purpose is to separate two or more physical territories. Its persistence and application depend on the acceptance and trust of the parties involved, therefore becoming subject to change and disputes. As human societies reach an evermore complex state, their existence becomes almost inevitable as a tool for understanding and organizing the world.
The borders between different countries may be the clearest example of the importance of frontiers throughout history. Its acceptance is based on international consensus and determines over which territory the rules ratified by their authorities will govern. Of course, this has tangible impacts on the lives of its inhabitants. However, as supranational agreements are made and multilateral organizations are created, states sacrifice independence for integration or development, for example.
Since the end of the Cold War, the trend has (almost) always shifted towards integration. International trade facilitated the erosion of borders to promote a unified global market in which the exchange of goods and services is as simple as possible. Integration tends to promote peace between different agents: the more interdependent they are, the more they have to lose in the event of a conflict or crisis among the involved parties. The European Union may be the model of organization that transcended borders thanks to its unified currency, the European Parliament, and the Schengen area. However, at certain times this total unification has been challenged. Take for instance the recent case of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many countries became warier about the control of their borders. How do external threats tend to strengthen borders? Would it be possible for these processes to take another form if we could better utilize the technologies we have available today?
The internet is probably the instrument behind the state of globalization we are currently experiencing. It is responsible for making the promise of total interconnectivity a reality. However, what at first seemed like the pathway to a utopia of total hyperconnection ended with a very different result. Strangely, with the massification of the internet and social networks, we see the emergence of new borders. These do not delimit the territory of the states, but rather mark in drastic fashion the content we want to see from what we don't. Even when the internet presents a never-before-seen amount of information, in general, we are very impermeable to what comes in conflict with our previous beliefs and convictions.
Getting out of the virtual sphere of the matter, another aspect that arises is the migration situation. Both the internet and trade give the impression that globalization is a great success, creating cosmopolitan megacities in its wake that reinforce the notion of the so-called global village. However, as the exchange of goods and information is facilitated, the same does not happen when human beings are the ones trying to cross those borders. In multiple places in the first world, migration policies have hardened. What is behind this rejection of immigration? Beyond the debate over whether it is desirable, doesn't it seem paradoxical that ideologies centered around the superiority of certain cultures in a globalized world?
This phenomenon of border hardening is even more impactful if we consider the particular case of those that are invisible. Mega-cities bring with them the marginalization of the lower social classes, who precisely because they are born on the wrong side of a city are unable to access basic services. Although these borders do not have the appearance that we associate with the word, it is undoubtedly true that in certain cases they are even more imposing than those built of bricks and concrete.
It is also important to ask ourselves: which shape will borders take in the future? Our current vision of them is generally rigid, but it should be taken into account that the way in which borders act has varied widely over time. For example, we can analyze the case of Tuvalu. Due to climatic issues and the level of the oceans, Tuvalu is sadly on the way to disappearing underwater in a matter of decades. As a result, they are fighting to become a digital nation, that is, a nation without its own territory. Extrapolating this idea: how will states and their borders work in a world where virtual communities are inhabited as naturally as real ones? What forms of political organization will be adopted on this path? How will we be represented in these societies?
In conclusion, it is necessary to remember that a large part of the problems we face have a global character. Borders have undoubtedly been fundamental parts of history and necessary for the progress we have achieved. Their future of them remains uncertain, with possibilities ranging from the hardening of borders to the creation of digital nations. How will it impact on political organization and representation?
Human Singularity: an Enigma
Artificial intelligence has revolutionized the ways in which humanity can be connected to the digital world and it is in moments of great technological boom that we need to recall all concepts AI englobes. The European Commission defines it, in order to establish guidelines and regulations for the use of artificial intelligence, as “systems that can, for a given set of objectives defined by humans, make autonomous decisions or actions that can also be programmed to learn or adapt their behavior based on their experience or their environment”. There exists a wide classification of AI regarding various criteria. Amongst them, Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI) is known as the AI whose resolution focus is directed towards a specific type of problem, not looking to portray human intelligence entirely and it is of distinctive use on virtual assistants, facial recognition, spam filtering on email´s inbox and autonomous vehicles. Then, General Artificial Intelligence (AGI) represents human cognitive abilities, such as understanding and learning, generalized on software to find a solution to unknown tasks a human is capable of resolving. Lastly, the future of artificial intelligence, when AI not only replicates human abilities but exceeds them, is englobed on a category in constant development: Super Artificial Intelligence (ASI).
“The potential to use AI beneficially: less contamination, better medical attention, better opportunities, better education and other ways that allow citizens to be involved in society”, stated the Executive Vice President of the European Commission, Margrethe Vestager. The scope of great magnitude that this technology has is clearly observed and, in turn, the risks involved in its use are understood. What belongs to technology extends to what is human and vice versa, in such a way that the limits and borders between both spaces are blurred.
One of the ways in which this conflict is presented concerns generative language models. ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chat designed by OpenAI that has the ability to generate text indistinguishable from the one produced by a human mind. Although the program is incapable of presenting feelings or opinions, as humans do, it is built on a social database that feeds off of biased content. For example, a barrier is encountered by artificial intelligence when an accurate translation between gendered and genderless languages is seeked. Spanish, a language with gender, and Finnish, a language without gender, signify a conflict and a power of linguistic decision for the artificial intelligence responsible for translation in cases in which a unique interpretation must be achieved. It is then that the cognitive biases are reflected when executing the specified task, causing an erroneous translation. Is the spread of biased data inevitable?
Similarly, this conflict resurfaces in other aspects of design that transcend the human-computer interface. The idea of empathetic design, an approach to design that seeks to understand the emotional needs of the user to develop products and services that are functional and satisfying to the public, dates back years. Artificial intelligence proves to be of great help in the search for personalized experiences but deciding on a design that adapts to everyone and not just to what is received statistically remains a challenge.
It is frequently asked whether the advance and development of artificial intelligence aims to replicate not only human intelligence but also other qualities of human beings. Humanity is a concept of great magnitude, encompassing not only the factual capacity to think, reason, and ideate but also qualities such as empathy and the capacity to feel as we know it.
However, in addition to the values that distinguish us as individual human beings, there is a closely related social landscape contemplated in the concept of humanity. Humanity entails a collective synergy between different human beings, a cultural and social aspect that comes from the formation of communities and societies. Within these communities, the values of trust, belonging, and belief are defined, susceptible to the environment within which they are established. It is for each space and time that technology must face different perspectives and interpretations of said values. So, are the concepts redefined, questioned, or simply replicated by technology? Finally, the following question arises: Are human qualities unique, or could they be replicated by the breakdown of an analyzed behavioral pattern?
The concept of "technological singularity" remains relevant even if it is not a priority in society. The term refers to a hypothetical situation in the future in which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, thus signifying unpredictable changes for human civilization. At the moment, artificial intelligence has grown with such precision and efficiency that what is human and what is produced by artificial intelligence are, in certain cases, indistinguishable from one another. If you doubt the veracity of this statement, allow yourself to answer the following question: What guarantees that, for example, the very title of this subtopic is not the result of a human mind but of chatGPT?
The Price of Privacy
It is undeniable that technological development is advancing by leaps and bounds. Throughout the 21st century, new ways of sharing information and connecting, such as social networks, have become vital in our daily lives, creating new relationships that previously did not exist. Today, life without access to online information is inconceivable, with daily processes involving the emission, reception, and processing of data.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a driving force for the imminent digitization of processes that regarded both the private and the public sectors, for them to remain relevant. Furthermore, this digital transformation meant that the interaction was no longer face-to-face, but machine-to-machine. Although this equated to significant leaps at organizational levels, it raised many concerns, especially when referring to sensitive data, setting new standards for protocols to access, filter and regulate data.
The European Union defines personal data as “any information relating to an identified or identifiable living natural person”. This may include information such as name, address, telephone number, email address, credit card information, and medical information, among others.
According to We Are Social and Hootsuite¹, two-thirds of the world's population will be online by July 2023, and the number of social media users will be the equivalent of 60% of the world's population. So, it is necessary to ask ourselves to what extent are we living under a new economic model where our data is the currency, and what are the limits to their use.
The protection of personal data is important for several reasons. First, it ensures the privacy and security of individuals by preventing unauthorized or improper use of their personal information. This can include preventing crimes like identity theft and online bullying.
Second, personal data protection helps build people's trust in the organizations and businesses that collect and use their information. If people know that their data is being processed fairly and transparently, they are more likely to trust those organizations and continue to use their services.
Finally, the protection of personal data is essential to guarantee respect for fundamental rights and human dignity. Without it, people may be exposed to discrimination, harassment, or financial harm.
So personal data breaches are a growing problem in the digital world we live in. One of the main causes of these leaks is the lack of adequate security measures in organizations. Failing to implement proper security measures leaves customer and employee data vulnerable to exploitation by malicious actors. The excessive collection and storage of personal information also increase the likelihood of data breaches. Furthermore, sharing or selling personal data without obtaining proper consent or using it for unauthorized purposes undermines the privacy rights of individuals and can lead to leaks.
For this reason, in recent years the importance of taking adequate security measures to guarantee data privacy has been revalued. Some examples of solid security policies and practices are data encryption, user authentication, and early detection and response to security incidents.
One of the most notorious cases of recent personal data leaks is the case of Wikileaks. In 2010, the organization released a large number of confidential US government documents, including diplomatic cables and military reports. This data leak caused quite a stir in the political and diplomatic world and revealed personal information of non-government individuals. Another notorious example is the case of Equifax in 2017. The credit reporting company suffered a data breach that resulted in the exposure of the personal information of 143 million people, including social security numbers, dates of birth, and addresses.
These cases illustrate just how important the protection of personal data is, and give powerful insight into the consequences that follow when safety measurements are undermined. Companies and organizations must adopt adequate security measures to protect the personal data of their customers and employees, taking a proactive approach to the protection of personal data, either through government regulation or self-regulation.
So, how can we protect people's data in a world that is increasingly connected and dependent on technology? Is there any type of personal information that should not be collected or shared? What responsibility do individuals have in protecting their data? How can we balance the need to collect and use personal data for business purposes with protecting the privacy of individuals?
1 - DataReportal. (2022). Digital 2022: Global Overview Report. Retrieved from https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2022-global-overview-report
Note: The opinions and ideas presented in these texts were written as triggers to facilitate writing the discussion needed to apply to the SABF. They must not be taken as an undeniable truth. In case of disagreeing with some of the ideas, applicants are encouraged to express it in their texts.