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Humans and Computers Are Getting Even More Connected

The implications of pervasive or ubiquitous computing are still only beginning to be apparent.
November 2, 2015

What do we want from the smart machines pervading our world—and what do they want from us?

That question framed this morning’s opening of the EmTech conference at MIT, and it’s a useful way to think about where computing is heading.

As MIT Technology Review’s editor-in-chief, Jason Pontin, said in beginning the show, breakthroughs in computer science have made it possible for machines to understand more of the data that our devices and sensors collect “in ways that elude human perception.” As we become ever more reliant on these devices and their software, the companies that capture our data develop a competitive advantage over those that don’t. And in turn, the companies’ need for data collection and the ability of machines to influence our behavior “creates a kind of intimacy between the human and the digital” that makes automated systems even more powerful.

“We know that there is enormous utility in embracing machines that are smart and powerful enough to become part of who we are,” Pontin said. “They have extended our capabilities and enlarged our sense of what it means to be human. But we need to be conscious of what we want from these smart machines, our new intimates. Because sometimes, they are not solely loyal to our interests.”

We’ll explore these issues through Wednesday at EmTech. For more on these ideas and the technologies driving them forward, see “Teaching Machines to Understand Us,” “How Technology Is Destroying Jobs,” and “The Real Privacy Problem.”

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