Public authorities will have to adapt to the instruments of the digital revolution, protecting and improving the quality of life of citizens, write José Roberto Afonso and Luiz Gonzalez

Everything that was solid, safe and expected melted into thin air to give way to new realities. He invoked, among others, Marshall Berman no famous book of 1982.

O leitmotif it is the constant flow of change. Modernity, for the author, is a process, marked by incessant ruptures and transformations. This is what we are experiencing and will experience even more intensely in the coming years.

Now underway, the 4th industrial revolution, that of the digital era, is changing the world so quickly that many do not realize the depth of the transformations. In previous revolutions, when we jumped from the spinning machine to steam, then to electricity, telephone and steel, then to computers, the changes always provoked anguish, apprehension and protests.

Industrial capitalism brought undeniable advances in the well-being and incorporation of the working masses into the productive system, albeit with injustices and inequality. It is always easier to digest changes when they improve our lives.

Now, we are once again facing new and immense crossroads. The transformations are much deeper and faster than in past industrial revolutions. Of “electronic brain” from the 1960s; from the Arpanetmother of the internet, from 1969, to IoT, the Internet of Things, with all interconnected equipment, IA (artificial intelligence), we have changed more than just calling everything by acronyms.

We no longer talk about bits and bytes. Now we talk about Q-bit (unit of information that has 2 distinct and controllable quantum states). Quantum computing, the hot topic, promises computers so powerful that they will be able to carry out calculations that, with our current machines, would take thousands of years. Thus, the alpha generation, born since 2010, has already grown up clicking.

Machines have learned and, now, there is debate as to whether they will take over humans and replace them, especially at work. Generative AI is the bogeyman of the moment. There are no “Luddites”, even because there are no machines to destroy, computing is “in the cloud”.

The question is: how will these new inventions affect the lives of Earth’s 8 billion inhabitants and the existence of the planet itself?

Perhaps the most obvious is the impact on work relationships. How many jobs will machines take away from humans? In which sectors? How to relocate the unemployed and those who, due to lack of education and knowledge, can no longer be allocated?

These questions lead to others: are we going to an era of more equality or more income concentration? AI and quantum computing require huge investments, which few countries and companies can make.

Chips, semiconductors, new generation processors, produced by a few companies in the world and the subject of a silent war between the USA and China, already anticipate: the current big techs will they be even more powerful and influential? Will most countries be left behind, dependent on third-party production?

As in other times, with the expansion of large transnational, monopolistic companies, the question arises whether it is possible and desirable to regulate the operation and expansion of these companies that shape the world. Is it possible to do this transnationally? Or should we conform and is it a task for economic blocs and national states?

There are repercussions, doubts, crossroads, in all areas of life. For some years now, the (pre-AI) influence of digital tools on political debate and electoral campaigns has been discussed. In the threat to the functioning of liberal representative democracy as we know it, the result of more than 200 years of civilizational advancement in the West.

And more than that: in the losses resulting from misinformation; of extremism; radicalization, promoted by non-transparent algorithms on social networks, which reach billions of people, and which instead of uniting, disaggregate; Instead of forwarding consensus that allows for a more peaceful coexistence, they cause polarization – as a kind of anteroom to wars. Even if through words, memes, persecution and hostile actions towards anyone who is or thinks “different”.

But not everything is negative, of course. Threats and damages are more easily perceived than opportunities and their benefits. The advances of AI in science, education and health, among other activities, are already anticipated to be immense. The case of health is a good example.

Diagnostic medicine is advancing rapidly. As it depends on statistics, there is nothing better than tools that can process and analyze millions of similar cases to help doctors. Imaging diagnostic equipment is increasingly sophisticated. The pharmaceutical industry can now produce vaccines and medicines in much less time.

All these topics will be discussed in Madrid, on May 3, at Casa de América, in the “Transformations Forum – Digital Revolution and Democracy”, organized by Fibe (Brazil Europe Integration Forum). Spanish, Portuguese and Brazilian experts and public agents will debate challenges and proposals for necessary changes, especially institutional ones, to adapt to new times.

Ultimately, it is certain that public authorities will have to adapt to the instruments of the digital revolution to better serve their citizens. Which, in turn, will have to have their privacy protected amidst the unbridled trade of personal data and what is conventionally called “surveillance capitalism”, in which the object traded is private life, preferences, behaviors, dreams, illnesses and medicines that people consume.


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