To Predict The Future Of Technology, Figure Out How People Will Use It Ilegally
“When thinking through the implications of a new technological development, it can be tempting to take the designers’ word on how something will be used in order to play out the results. After all, they built it, they should know what it’s good for, right? And quite often they do–and many people end up using the new tools and systems just as the inventors intended.
Many, but not all. And, for a futurist, here’s where it really gets interesting.
New technologies don’t exist in a vacuum: they interact with both technological and non-technological systems as well as a variety of human wants and needs. This allows for the emergence of surprising combinations of goals and uses, many of which may be completely outside of the expectations of the designers. In short, as the patron saint of futurism William Gibson once said, “the street finds its own uses for things.”
As a futurist, I try to think beyond the designers notes when it comes to the impacts of emerging technologies. I find that it’s often useful to imagine the unintended, seedy, improper, or illicit uses of new tools and systems. How might Invention X be hacked? How could it facilitate a user having disproportionate power over another person? How will it be used to help the user have sex? How would it enable someone to commit a crime? Thinking along those lines can help to uncover the more subtle connections between a new technology and incumbent systems, spot hidden security flaws, or even reveal markets for a product that the developer had ignored.”