The 1970s was an era when India, a country rebuilding itself after decades of colonial rule, stepped into the field of technological advancements. India entered the space age by launching its first satellite Aryabhata. While the US and other countries in the west had already experienced the wonders of the television, it was in 1970, that 2,400 black-and-white community TV sets came alive in India for the first time — much before television reached Indian cities. This would be the beginning of many more technological advancements to come.
Technology has progressed at an astounding rate from the days when I sold my first computers, the best of which only had eight megabytes of memory. However, the remarkable technology and applications that we have at our fingertips today were not developed instantaneously, rather, they were achieved through distinct technological milestones of ingenuity. To truly understand the impact technology can have on humankind in the next 50 years, it’s important to appreciate the innovations that changed our lives forever along with the dangers that have emerged over the last half-century.
70s: Integrated circuits are born
One of the coolest technologies that emerged, in my opinion, is integrated circuits. The time saved on manually designing circuit boards revolutionised the electronics industry. It laid the foundation for devices such as computers, mobile phones and other appliances. These chips will go on to become more powerful as they integrate with the internet of things.
80s: Standardisation of software + rise of hackers
Every organisation had its own operating system that supported selected applications until the arrival of Unix. More organisations started adopting Unix because of its portability and universal application. The inexpensive and interactive use of the Unix system transformed the way software engineers thought about programming.
It’s also around this period that the hacking community started tinkering with operating systems. Back then, the term “hacker” was attached to computer experts who pushed computer systems beyond known limits. Somewhere along the way, a new breed of hackers concerned with personal gain (what we know today as cybercriminals) emerged.
90s: The omnipresent World Wide Web
The advent of the internet is one of the most profound changes of the century. The browser combined with various web protocols brought the world closer by giving us the means to communicate with people through email and chat services. Riding on the coattails of technological success in the 80s and 90s, cybercriminal activity started to gain traction. Bad actors were stealing proprietary software from organisations, launching the first computer worm and leading the first digital bank heist.
00s: Rise of social media and smartphones, cloud becomes mainstream
Remember Orkut? Launched in 2004, the platform had around 18 million users in the country. Orkut became India’s leading social media platform until the rise of Facebook began in 2010. Social media not only enabled people to connect with one another but inserted itself into politics, the workplace and home and continues to evolve at lightning speed. Various social media channels will become havens for cybercriminal activity such as pedalling fake medication, news and promises of getting rich through cash flipping.
It’s also around this time that cloud computing started to take off after former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, introduced the term at a conference in 2006. Two words come to mind when I think about cloud – accessibility and scale. In the same way businesses were using the cloud to run applications, cybercriminals were also busy leveraging cloud platforms to launch distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS). In March 2008, India’s Ministry of External Affairs’ website was breached and data related to Indian diplomats and top secret information was believed to be stolen.
Smartphones truly made their mark on the world when Steve Jobs revealed the iPhone at MacWorld in 2007. Unlike previous cell phones which relied on keypads and a watered-down version of the internet, the iPhone turned personal computers into pocket-sized devices. Much of our lives today are navigated through smartphones and cybercriminals know this. Hence, these devices have become a gateway for cybercriminals to steal personal credentials and meander into cloud accounts.
2010 – now: A decade of disruption
The last 10 years have seen technology disrupt the music, travel, transport, food industries and more. In the process, the use of technology has been made simple for anyone who can adapt to the change. The Internet of Things (Iot) is making life at home easier with smart assistants while on an industrial level, greater convergence between IT and operational systems form. But this decade of connectivity has also been rife with cyberattacks – costly data breaches, nation-state cyber-espionage operations, financially motivated cybercrime and destructive malware that crippled systems.
2020 – 2070 and beyond: Technology to solve human-centric issues
As you can see, the last five decades have been about the emergence of new technological faculties each flexing its muscles and leaving a mark on society. However, in retrospect, the very technologies that helped us advance also left us vulnerable because cybersecurity was either missing or an afterthought. If we are to truly prosper in a technology-driven world, securing the digital infrastructure that underpins our society needs to sit at the core of every innovation. If we can collectively work towards a higher baseline of cybersecurity maturity, I believe the next five decades will be about bringing all of these technologies together to solve greater societal problems.
Equal Access to Technology
As many as 26 million Indians are estimated to have disabilities: ensuring each and every citizen has equal access to the technology that underpins our society must be a top priority. My hope is that new innovations will be developed with a greater variety of verbal and visual controls so that people with disabilities can interact with, benefit from and enjoy digitised services. We have the power to harness technology to foster inclusivity and make our world safer and friendlier for everyone. We must rise to this challenge.
Consumers to dictate terms of access and control
Data will continue to be an invaluable currency. However, I believe consumers are going to have more control over the type of information they allow organisations to access and, as a result, there will be increased pressure on organisations to be transparent about how consumer data is gleaned. This also means that robust legal systems will be in place to deal with privacy issues and to ensure that unscrupulous data use does not become a norm.
Technology to solve global issues
During each decade of technological progression, I have witnessed, our prosperity as a species has improved dramatically. However, it’s also clear that while many of our lives have improved because of technology, nearly all other aspects of the natural world have deteriorated. Not all impacts of technology are positive. Climate change, issues of carbon emissions and sustainability are vital concerns for both this generation and the generations to follow. Whilst this might seem grim, a new ethos of technology that considers the environment is underway, and the negative impacts of technology can at least be partially lessened with positive, thoughtful ingenuity.
Sustainably generating renewable energy resources is one of the most effective ways to reduce our carbon footprint and, ultimately, help save the environment. I hope that by 2070 harnessing renewable forms of energy — sun, wind and tides — will become significantly less expensive and more accessible to consumers everywhere. Sustainability is applicable to a vast array of industries, from solar panels powering the world’s largest buildings, down to the usage of sensors on our tap. This is only a glimpse of what we have achieved with human innovation; imagine the possibilities once the benefits of artificial intelligence are fully realised. Hopefully, in that time, synthetic foods can also be produced without impacting the environment both on an individual and global scale. My hope is that the next era of technology will be one of conscientious progression.
Innovation comes with responsibility
I’m filled with cautious optimism when I think about the world my grandchildren and their children will experience in the years to come. Humans are the species most able to adapt to change; this is very much reflected in the technological advancements of the last 50 years.
However, as technology progresses, so too does the methods of those that seek to exploit it. Our leaps and bounds must therefore be thoughtfully guided by the considerations for the safety and security of our shared planet. Our strength as a species lies in our ability to adapt, and adapt we must. It is up to us, and us alone, to shape our future for the better.
The author is Gary Jackson, Vice President for Asia-Pacific, Tenable