Mobilities and tomorrow’s technologies: emerging technology and their human impacts

One of the joys of my work is the opportunity to connect the sociological imagination to the wicked problems of industry. In this case, I am pondering what we know about mobilities, emerging technologies and their human impacts. This question strongly positions the role of the social sciences and humanities as thought leaders of our future. How can we build compassionate, kind and sustainable communities where our uses of and practices with technologies and within built environments reflect this mandate? I refer to this as care. What do we care about and how can we care for it?

For me to analytically break these notions down and find working case studies to illustrate the human impacts, I will start with each idea separately. To begin with, what exactly does ‘mobilities’ mean? Are we talking about mobilities of people (ie migration and tourism), mobilities of goods and services (ie transportation and the economy) or mobilities of  intangible products such as data fields and human communication (information and telecommunications)? This is the first question, however the second question is really at the core of this notion of mobilities in my opinion. What are at the foundations of all of these mobilities? What are the infrastructures that support the flows of people, products and information? Here we come down to the tangibilities of energy flows and built environments (from physical place to code). Thus when we start to talk about mobilities, we are also talking about energy to power flows across socio-technical environments. We are also talking about the workforce of the future and in-hand with this, the forms of economy, market and governance that will regulate and enable diverse and sustainable futures.

Life is dynamic and mobile, with movement at its very core; this applies to how it is organised, social practices and our lived experience. Consequently, the great question of our age is two-fold. In all of our moving, consuming and producing, how can we utilise technologies to instantiate sustainable futures? The flip-side of this question is how we can we bring about a new normal where instead of consuming and polluting our planet, and only living ecosystem, we use our capacity to create and innovate to live sustainably? This question seems enormous. Within the Australian context, we have had political tensions as to whether the market will bring this about or whether the people will divest existing governance structures, which they do not trust, and build leadership from within communities.

Within Australia, we have also had unresolved debates as to whether the impacts of our current practices upon the environment are related to climate change. For many, now, this has become a moot point, with the cities swamped in smoke haze and a great deal of finger pointing going on whilst the east coast and many other parts of Australia burn. Within my personal conversations, people see this as a point of hope, in which the fires bring a time of cleansing and a new vision for how we will proceed. Currently, I am just devastated and choose to use the platforms I have available to bring about conversations. I ask, how can we authentically bring about social change and sustainable futures? To do this, we must acknowledge our present and real danger, environmental collapse and a toxic future. We also must build our future, not in fear, but with a strong vision of care through a collective conversation.

So when I ask, what is a smart city, what are the energies of the future, how do mobilities of people, goods and information flow, I am really asking what are the ways of thinking that will break the cycle of consumption and waste. How can we sensitise our practices to be in tune with the balance of nature and abundance that are contained within the unbreakable rules of this delicate yet robust planetary ecosystem we live in.  So this, I believe is the lens through which I will unpack the role of smart cities, driverless cars, AI and automated decision making systems, alternative monetary and market systems, sustainable energy sources questions of ethics and governance.  Stay tuned.

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