Challenging Digital Enchantment: A Reality Check

digital enchantment


New research from the University of Birmingham challenges the “Digital Enchantment” narrative propagated by politicians and tech leaders.

Such a narrative, according to the research, does not present a realistic or beneficial view of digital technology.

A naïve belief has captivated governments that networked digital technologies hold the key to resolving various economic and social issues.

However, the actual benefits, from COVID apps to blockchain, have often been inconsequential.

Advantages of Digital Technology

As large language models (LLMs) and artificial intelligence gain prominence, it is crucial to critically assess the true advantages of digital technology for the public good.

The study, titled “Dispelling the Digital Enchantment,” published in the journal Prometheus, argues that governments have viewed digital technology as a magical solution to societal problems, overlooking its downsides and risks.

This flawed belief in unbridled innovation has led to limited regulatory oversight. This trend has to stop as generative AI becomes more prevalent.

Professor Karen Yeung, an Interdisciplinary Professorial Fellow in Law, Ethics, and Informatics at Birmingham Law School and the paper’s author, explains that society has become infatuated with digital technology.

Governments and companies have made us believe that it offers solutions without negative impacts. The situation has allowed an unregulated sector in the name of “progress,” she said.

However, this turns out to be a fairy tale. Tech industry leaders crafted this narrative and politicians peddled it for years.

While some policymakers are beginning to introduce legislation to address these issues, such as the EU’s Digital Service Act and Digital Markets Act, Professor Yeung argues that most legislators and companies show little interest in understanding how digital technologies interact with our complex social world.

Clear Evaluation

As governments rush to create regulatory frameworks for AI, like the upcoming AI Summit in the UK, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive, clear evaluation of the costs and benefits of networked digital technologies and evidence of whether they deliver on their promises.

Professor Yeung emphasizes the importance of breaking free from the myth that unrestricted innovation and emerging technologies will effortlessly solve our problems without considering the potential adverse impacts.

A thoughtful and sophisticated response to this digital enchantment, grounded in a realistic, evidence-based understanding of technology’s relationship with society and legal regulation, is necessary.

Exploring worst-case scenarios will help ensure that technology serves humanity, rather than the other way around, she said.

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