For unforgettable computer

Fake news, ignorance, and technology wars

The Soviet Union funded the Morning Star newspaper for its own propaganda purposes in the pre-internet age

It seems that the biggest existential threat to our societies today is the rise of ignorance amplified by falling education standards, compounded by fake news, deep fake videos, and the growing acceptance of lies over truth.

Until recently warfare has been sporadic and confined to land, sea, and in the air. But it has now expanded into the cyber and information spaces, with general and targeted malware attacks along with the adjustment of people’s perceptions and their ability to make sensible decisions.

There has been no measurable increase in brain cancer rates since the 1990s and dead insects/birds are not clustered around the base of mobile phone antennas

In these domains, warfare is global, continual, and all pervasive, posing a real and present danger capable of triggering a major conflagration without warning.

This is a world of targeted misinformation and distortions created by rogue states and vested interests with the purpose of confusing, depressing, and disillusioning entire populations to the point where political functionality and stability collapse. This might just expose nations to the risk of succumbing to some foreign power moving to restore order and a new social coherence.

Perhaps this is all epitomised by the subtle manifestation of the irrationalities surrounding technological advance.

Condemning technologies without a thought for the consequences, or indeed any understanding or balanced discussion about their pro and cons, seems to be the new norm. For example, social networks and 5G are (apparently) a primary cause of brain cancer, teen depression, and suicide. Yes, really! 

While 5G carries no risk, social media does need to be addressed, but not by irrationally attacking the social media companies head on. How about parents taking responsibility for their children’s screen time? And what about wider education on advertising, bullying, and denigrating comments online?

Social media does need to be addressed [but] how about parents taking responsibility for their children’s screen time?

The paradoxes here are extreme and puzzling. Take, for example, the MRI scanner. If we were to give it its full name then people would not go near it because it really is in an NMRI scanner where the ‘N’ in the title is ‘nuclear’. But the letter ‘N’ was removed in the full anticipation that people would object to that form of diagnostic imaging, but erasing the ‘N’ has saved millions of lives.

More recently the trope of mobile technology cooking your brain navigated the 3G and 4G cycles, but is back with a vengeance with 5G. The radiation nonsense and the demands are the same:

“You can’t prove that mobile phones do not cause cancer of the brain.”

But as anyone (educated) knows, you can’t prove a negative. The correct way of framing this question is:

“Can you prove that mobile phones do cause cancer of the brain?”

So, what evidence do we have that 3G, 4G or 5G can hurt humanity or other creatures? Well, there has been no measurable increase in brain cancer rates since the 1990s and dead insects/birds are not clustered around the base of mobile phone antennas or WiFi routers. Furthermore, you can visit high-power microwave sites, including radars, and the same is true.

In contrast, mobile technologies have saved millions of lives; transformed economies; and improved living standards across the planet. So the cost-benefit equation is strongly positive for mobile technology.

On social media, such views are castigated by the ignorant and irrational who often quote supposed scientists in support of the case against. But when fact and detail checking is undertaken it turns out that the majority either come up with ‘404 not found’, or they are pseudo scientists or distortions introduced by the protagonists of the protest movement.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in favour of throwing caution to the wind or neglecting the health and safety of testing of technologies first, but it is best not done in an irrational and unscientific frenzy.

Come to think about it, I’m less about AIs and robots taking over the planet as I am about what humans might do next!

Professor Peter Cochrane OBE is the former CTO of BT, who now works as a consultant focusing on solving problems and improving the world through the application of technology. He is also a professor at the University of Suffolk’s School of Science, Technology and Engineering.