Friend, not foe: technology’s role in the betterment of society for current and future generations

“Technologies should be developed in a way that complements humans and their social, legal and ethical values so as to garner social acceptance, allowing the technologies to help rather than hinder society.”

A multi-million dollar research group has recently been formulated under the leadership of Dr. Jai Galliott, a researcher based at UNSW Canberra whose work focusses on the ways human-machine interaction can benefit society as a whole. The Values in Defence and Security Technology group (VDST) seeks to facilitate responsible design in the defence and security space, in particular around emerging technologies such as lethal autonomous weapon systems, drones, artificial intelligence, big data, block chain, military human enhancement, space and quantum computing.

“The group aims to be the global leader in the value dimension of weapons and security engineering research and analysis – which is important not only for the development of technological innovations, but for their social acceptance and moral acceptability,” he explained.

Dr. Galliott has recently secured $1.06 million in funding from the US Department of Defence to study the implications of autonomous weapons, reflecting the growing importance placed on knowledge and understanding of the way technology and humans interact now and in the future.

The voluminous research being undertaken in this field is partly a reaction to public concerns over technology and its perceived negative impact on society. Developments in innovation have seemingly been accompanied by growing uncertainty around their potential impact, particularly where the public is heavily involved.

Surveillance, drones and autonomous weapons are poignant examples of technologies which have unnecessarily attracted fear and uncertainty on a broader scale.

The rise of such technologies has triggered varied responses by stakeholders, many of whom have sought to ban or heavily regulate their operation. According to Dr. Galliott, this only hinders the ability of this technology to help society, hence the need for institutions such as the VDST to illuminate the potential for technologies to benefit a swathe of stakeholders, including the military, intelligence agencies, industry and civilian subjects or consumers.

Through researching the way humans and technologies interact, the VDST seeks to streamline the development of new technologies to suit the public’s legal, ethical and social values. The follow-on effect of such research and practical implementation will hopefully be to alleviate public concern over the potential impacts of technology, thus allowing the technologies to be used to their full potential with public support.

The inception of the VDST is also significant for the message it sends to an international audience. The burgeoning area of technologies such as autonomous weapons and drones means that a greater understanding of the way they interact with humans is invaluable.

The heavy investment in research in this area will place the VDST and UNSW Canberra more broadly in good stead at both a national and international level.