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What Might Happen In Tech Over The Next Decade

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Well, our next guest is someone who's done a lot of work on how to detect that last problem of deepfake videos. We have asked Hany Farid of the University of California, Berkeley to join us now to discuss how technology may develop over the next decade.

Welcome back to All Tech Considered.

HANY FARID: Good to be here, Ari.

SHAPIRO: We're ending this decade on a note of uncertainty and skepticism about technology that might not have been there 10 years ago for whatever reason. Can I just begin by getting a quick sense of how you are feeling about technology heading into 2020?

FARID: I think you're right that the last decade has been disappointing, and I think we are frustrated and worried about the direction we are moving in in the industry and how technology is affecting our lives day to day. I think we're reaching the low point. I don't think we're quite at it. But I hope that after that low point, we start to climb back uphill and start to take advantage of all the wonderful things about technology while mitigating many of the awful things that we've seen over the last...

SHAPIRO: So you're an optimist.

FARID: I am an optimist, and I'm a technologist. And I want technology to be great aspects of our lives. I think now the tables have turned a little bit, and I think that we are seeing more downside than upside. But I think that that's fixable with some thought and some regulation and some corporate changes and some new technologies.

SHAPIRO: I realize that when I ask you to imagine the next decade in technology, we could be talking about anything from social media...

FARID: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...To health, manufacturing, vehicles, clean energy. Just to get specific, I'd like to hear about one thing that makes you really optimistic and excited and one thing that makes you feel a little bit of dread. Start by telling us something that makes you hopeful.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Where I'm hopeful is the use of technology in medicine. I think one of the most exciting things we are seeing with the advances in machine learning and deep learning and AI is in rapid advances in everything from early detection of cancer to treatments because of the big data. And I think that's really exciting, and I think it has real potential in the next decade. For the dread, I mean, I can go on and on and on.

FARID: (Laughter).

FARID: But let me...

SHAPIRO: Give us one thing that...

FARID: Let me tell you why.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

FARID: The thing that worries me most is the dis- and misinformation campaigns - is the sort of the polluting of the online ecosystem of information with absolute garbage. And I think these are real existential threats to our democracy. And I think we are far, far from being ready to deal with it from a technological perspective and from a legislative and regulatory perspective. And I'm very worried about the upcoming elections and the next round and the next round.

SHAPIRO: What about the physical, human relationship to technology? Do you think that in the next 10 years, the line between ourselves and the technology that we use will begin to blur?

FARID: I would argue it's already blurring. I mean, the cell phone, the mobile device is now ubiquitous. If you go out and - you go to an airport, for example, 99% of the people are glued to a device. They are now part of our lives for better or worse.

And what's next? Probably the next step in the next decade is going to be augmented reality, where we all have glasses where all the information is coming in simultaneously and will start to intermingle with the real world in an interesting and maybe dystopian way. I think after that, it's hard to say because, you know, that next step, that next 10 years, is almost impossible to predict.

SHAPIRO: As you've pointed out, right now, there are important areas where we don't have good guardrails...

FARID: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Whether that's about companies tracking us through our devices or countries developing autonomous weapons, killer robots. Do you see that changing? Do you think regulation of technology in the next 10 years will be more effective?

FARID: I don't know if it'll be more effective, but I'm sure that there will be regulation coming. So we saw that out of Europe with protections of privacy. I will tell you, having spent time in Brussels and in the U.K. and on Capitol Hill, there was a lot of discussion about regulating tech - everything from breaking up what is a monopoly in some cases to forcing these companies to be better at consumer protection and everything from privacy to security. And I think that that regulation is coming.

The hope, of course, is that we regulate in a sensible and smart way that is adaptive to a very fast-moving technology space. But I think that is coming in the next decade. We have been absolutely absent around the world in regulating the technology sector, and it has led to the mess that we are in now. And now we have to start putting some guardrails in place. And, of course, it's harder after the fact. But nevertheless, we do have to do that.

SHAPIRO: Hany Farid of the University of California, Berkeley.

We are going to hang onto this interview, and 10 years from now, we'll ask you back and see how you did.

FARID: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.