On May 29, 2017, The Asan Institute for Policy Studies hosted a lecture by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman about his latest book, Thank You for Being Late (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016). Mr. Friedman outlined the main arguments of his book for an audience of journalists and Asan Academy students before a brief Q&A session and book signing. His hour-long presentation ranged from why 2007 was a watershed year for technology to whether God exists in cyberspace.
Mr. Friedman began by posing three questions for the audience to ask themselves: What is my value set? How does modern society (the machine) work? What have I learned about people and culture? From here, he launched into a discourse on how drastic accelerations in the development of the global market, the environment, and technology have transformed humankind’s ability to interact with one another. By empowering the individual as never before, these forces provide countless opportunities, as well as pose unprecedented challenges to the world. In 2007, these developments converged, and a plethora of new technologies and services sprang into existence, many of which continue to fundamentally shape the way we live.
One of the greatest challenges we face, Mr. Friedman believes, is that technology is developing faster than humans can adapt to it. For centuries, human progress was slow, allowing us time to adjust to the societal changes each new invention brought. As innovation now increases exponentially, we are only just beginning to take advantage of all that modern technology has to offer. The best way to do this is by “learning faster and governing smarter.” In other words, figuring out the best way to harness the tools at our disposal and turn artificial intelligence (AI) into intelligent assistants (IA).
What this requires is a commitment to lifelong learning and willingness to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. The days of getting a college degree and expecting lifelong employment are over, Mr. Friedman cautioned. Fortunately, these same new technologies are making learning new skills easier and cheaper than ever.
As we enter a world in which more and more of our lives are conducted online, Mr. Friedman called attention to the fact that cyberspace is governed by different rules and laws than the physical world, and is thus transforming our concept of ethics. In order to build a society that will benefit everyone, it is the duty of the individual to bring into the cyber realm the moral code that underpins our world today. At a time when the individual has greater powers than ever before, it is the responsibility of everyone to help shape the future.