On May 30, EE launched the U.K.’s next generation of internet interconnectivity 5th Generation (5G) with a secret gig by Stormzy in Tower Bridge, London. For the launch of a new internet, this was quite a bizarre and dystopian/utopian display—depending on which side you land on.
5G was first brought to my attention through conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who stated on a podcast with Joe Rogan that “5G causes massive mutation and cancer” and with that 5G quickly became the internet’s new favourite conspiracy—but what exactly is 5G and who exactly is saying it could harm us?
With 5G, we will be stepping fully into a new area of real-time response time online. We are moments away from being able to download HD movies in seconds, real-time communication in other languages and seamless lag-free gaming, but the benefits of 5G don’t stop there. When I say faster, they predict it as much as 1000 times faster than 4G. If our phones weren’t already an extension of our ‘selves’, this is taking it to the next step.
5G has been speculated to be beneficial for robotics such as driverless cars through to the healthcare industry for quickly transmitting images and expanding telemedicine. Additionally, it will expand on the notion of ‘smart homes’, meaning it will allow for devices to speak to one another by quickening data transmission.
Once considered science fiction, 5G will also work to rapidly increase AI production and expansion. 5G will give us access to more data at significantly faster speeds, resulting in devices having a better ability to understand their surroundings—in other words, 5G will give context to AI.
EE has not just ‘switched 5G on’, it has actually been tested in the U.K. since 2015. The timeline for wireless connectivity is as follows: 1G was the mobile technology of the early 1990s, 2G was the first system capable of carrying text messages between users, and internet on our mobiles as we know it today is 3G which launched in 2003, followed by 4G in 2012. Reportedly the 4G rollout was a disaster, and U.K. residents can still only access 4G networks 53 percent of the time, making the U.K. the worst place for 4G coverage in Europe.
Furthering the 5G timeline, in September 2015 the University of Surrey opened its 5G Innovation Centre in Basingstoke—a test bed for 5G. The hunger for better data is strong, so much so that the U.K. government spent £75 million on the Basingstoke site and predicted that £6.8 billion is reserved for 5G in total.
Elon Musk has also played a big part in the 5G rollout, with plans for his company SpaceX to produce a Starlink constellation of around 12,000 satellites with the ability to deliver high-speed internet to people at an affordable price. In early May, Musk shared on his Instagram that 60 satellites have just been launched to start this mission.
Which brings us to today, with many wifi companies worried 5G’s reported speed will kill them off completely. With all the impressive pros, come also many concerns with 5G. Over 200 scientists and physicians who have researched the biological effects of radiofrequency radiation have signed the 5G appeal, calling for a cap on the use of the new technology.
The main areas of concern are interference issues, surveillance, and health risks. 5G uses millimetre wave radio transmissions (28GHz frequencies), which has roughly a tenth of the range of standard 4G. Therefore, this is resulting in a lot more masts, satellites and antennas needed to account for the short travel distance and provide clear reception. Apparently, 5G even has trouble passing through trees.
As for surveillance issues, many people are speculating a super-connected world will also be super susceptible to cyber attacks. We have already experienced ransomware, malware, crypto-jacking, identity theft, and data breaches, which arguably will only get worse with 5G.
Finally, the development of this new technology has sparked fear that 5G radiation could have adverse health effects. In April 2019, Geneva, Switzerland and Brussels, Belgium blocked a 5G trial because of radiation laws.
There are multiple speculations online through #stop5G and #5Gremedies, with a Facebook group founded by John Kuhles, Dutch UFO researcher. Kuhles is predicting symptoms such as hot flashes, blurred vision, vertigo, irregular or skipped heartbeats, unexplained pains, ringing in one or both ears, extreme fatigue or extreme energy bursts, nausea and flu-like symptoms, also known as ‘microwave sickness’. However, his website was criticised for fake news of 5G attacking and killings birds in the Netherlands alongside other propaganda.
In the U.S., Senator Patrick Colbeck said he believes that unregulated Wireless Radiation represents the number one environmental issue of our day—perhaps it’s important to note that Colbeck is also antivaccine. While in the U.K., conspiracy theorist David Icke expressed his concern that 5G millimetre wave technologies are used to scatter crowds and that it could potentially be used against us as a weapon.
So what now? 5G is here and has been here for a while. Later this year, it will launch across the busiest parts of the U.K. up until 2020. Overall, it is impossible to predict what new technologies can come out of this hyper-connectivity but what we can say is that the potential applications of 5G are numerous and exciting. Let’s just wait and see if we ever get ‘microwave sickness’.
The last couple of years have seen both rampant fear and hysteric excitement over the implementation of autonomous and intelligent systems (A/IS) within our everyday lives. As some of Silicon Valley’s resourceful entrepreneurs are aptly profiting over the AI epidemic, a group of scientists, academics, and professors have joined forces under the name of The Council on Extended Intelligence (CXI) to find a different, more beneficial, approach towards autonomous and intelligent technologies. Their goal: to build the basis for an A/IS that is not exclusively profit-driven and, most importantly, refuses to accept the machine vs human competition narrative that seems to be ruling.
According to Joichi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, team member of The Council on Extended Intelligence, the only ones who are currently benefiting from Artificial Intelligence technologies are those who master them; those who live within what he calls the ‘singularity bubble’, while the rest of us are left outside the conversation as passive users of overwhelmingly powerful technologies.
The central problem with technological singularity—and the main reason why The Council on Extended Intelligence is working towards changing this narrative—is that it implies a future where a super-intelligent technology supersedes human reason and becomes a sovereign and threatening entity. In light of this movement, media coverage around AI and super algorithms has helped inflate the possible consequences of such an exponential growth of machine intelligence—basically, AI taking over our jobs and bots outsmarting humans to eventually take control over the world—in ways that have only been predicted in sci-fi movies.
At the same time, the use of Artificial Intelligence for surveillance purposes and data exploitations have only increased the mistrust towards this technology and the belief that AI is indeed engineered to work against us. “Widespread surveillance, combined with social-engineering techniques, has eroded trust and can ultimately lead to authoritarianism and the proliferation of systems that reinforce systemic biases rather than correct them. The Council is actively working against this paradigm—in which people have no agency over their identity and their data—as being fundamentally at odds with an open and free society.” Reads a text on The Council on Extended Intelligence’s website. From participatory design to the Digital Identity project, which is set to create a Data Policy template for governments and organisations to provide individuals and society the tools to reclaim their digital identity, the CXI is paving the way for a future where people do not see intelligent machines as opposites but as an extension of our own assets.
To counter the dystopian machine-driven future scenario prophesied by the singularity theory, The CXI is opening a debate to promote the collaboration between human and technology by employing participatory design structures to build intelligent and autonomous machines. In other words, the CXI is made up of tech-experts and professionals who believe that technology should be developed differently than how it has been by governments and private corporations so far.
“Instead of thinking about machine intelligence in terms of humans vs machines, we should consider the system that integrates humans and machines—not Artificial Intelligence but Extended Intelligence. Instead of trying to control or design or even understand systems, it is more important to design systems that participate as responsible, aware and robust elements of even more complex systems.” Explains Ito in Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto, which is a call for action and one of the fundamental texts behind the CXI.
The Council on Extended Intelligence is just starting to promote its philosophical and technological agenda, but as our society delves deeper into the algorithmic age, feeling overwhelmed by the speed in which technology seems to be taking control over every aspect of our lives, we start to understand why it is crucial to rethink its model now that we see the flaws. And to do so, shifting the narrative behind it really is the first step to regaining agency over our future. And that is precisely what Ito and his fellow colleagues are trying to do.