Predicting what will happen in the future is easier than predicting when it will happen. Our economic system — unless and until it changes — makes some transitions so attractive as to be inevitable. But the human factors that will speed or slow that transition are much harder to predict.
One of those human factors is our faith in technology. Another is in inevitable human fallibility in its application. Two stories in today’s papers illustrate the potential of these factors to speed or slow our progress.
Smart, but inaccurate
The first story ran in today’s Sun and Telegraph, browsed while preparing the newspaper review on BBC Radio Manchester. It discusses the poor performance of many smart meters. Smart meters are supposed to replace all of our utility meters by 2020, but the programme has seemed to stumble from inception onward. Security issues, budget over-runs, delays, and now this: some meters over-read consumption by a factor of six. The meters also struggle to cope with low-energy bulbs, LED lights and dimmers. Some of the meters included in the study, though not necessarily the worst offenders, have been installed in the UK.
This will undoubtedly undermine people’s faith in what should be a very positive programme. Smart meters have the potential to cut people’s bills, and tackle our collective carbon footprint — as well as releasing pressure on an over-stressed energy grid. The result? 2020 now looks even more optimistic as a deadline.
Call centre criminals
In The Times this morning is the story of a scam being perpetrated against TalkTalk customers. This is a more targeted version of the Windows Support scam, where you receive a call claiming to be from tech support having discovered a problem with your machine. They walk you through a few steps designed to convince you that your machine is afflicted, then convince you to open up your machine to remote control. You are then locked out until you make a payment to restore access — or worse, your banking, payment and identity information can be stolen from your machine.
There’s only anecdotal evidence of a link to the 2015 TalkTalk hack that captured the data of 157,000 users, but it seems plausible that this is the source of the targeting data. The result? More stories scaring people off the internet and making online banking and shopping less appealing for the remaining percentage yet to take advantage. And being online is a clear financial advantage, with prices often lower for online shoppers.
Tech isn’t the threat
New technologies often create enormous opportunities. But they also carry threats. Sometimes that threat is intentional, sometimes it is accidental. If we are to realise the opportunities technology presents then technologists need to demonstrate great responsibility in its application — something that is not always in evidence. That’s problematic at best when handling people’s personal data or energy bills. It could be catastrophic as we start to deploy more wide-reaching and powerful technologies like AI.
Every mistake we make, as with the smart meters, and every abuse of technology, as with the TalkTalk scam, slows the rate at which people will accept technological progress.