DECEMBER 6 — Datuk Husin Jazri, the director of the Global Centre for Cybersafety, as reported in the Malay Mail (November 25, 2023), highlights the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) programmes in countering malicious AI. He emphasises the urgency for a dedicated cyber safety commission to accompany the enactment of specific laws to address existing vulnerabilities and legislative gaps in fighting against cybercrimes.

The saint AI to combat the evil AI. Interesting!

This is one of the ways in striking a balance in the digital realm. We control the technology, not otherwise. This should not only be on the part of the authority’s legislative and preventive measures, but more importantly in educating ourselves to be the master of our technological device, not a slave to it.

Indeed, the way we communicate has evolved, reducing barriers, increasing speed and enhancing the scope of interaction among individuals and societies. Advancements in digital and smart technologies continue to redefine how we connect, collaborate and share information in an increasingly interconnected world. In this world without boundaries filled with tech wonders, one might ponder: Are we truly in control, or have we succumbed to becoming slaves to the very innovations meant to empower us?

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Privacy, once highly treasured, now appears to be vanishing. Our personal data, gathered by massive tech companies and governments, is readily accessible, sparking worries about surveillance and potential misuse. Without an awareness of privacy and safety rights as an Internet user and knowledge about the scammers’ modus operandi, one can easily fall prey to these online criminals. So be alert and stay safe.

Now picture these:

Situation A: You get into an empty restaurant with one or two waiters standing near you, but you are told to place your orders using the QR instead. So, you do just that, and after a considerably long wait, the food arrives. As you are about to pay at the counter, the debit/credit card machine fails to function. You are asked to use cash, because the QR payment system is not a thing there, yet.

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Situation B: You ask Waze for a direction, something that you rely on to practically get to anywhere on Earth. But as you start to drive, the GPS signal disappears. You have to stop driving, frantically switching onto another GPS-directing app, only to realise it is all the fault of your poor Internet connection. Mr Waze is completely innocent.

Situation C: You are at a multi-level shopping mall with your daughter, trying to locate a premise. The information counter is less than 10 meters away, but when you ask your daughter to enquire for direction from the person at the counter, she replies: “It’s okay mama, I got it here!” (checking her phone).

Situation D: It is payday, and as you are about to pay the utilities or purchase a few things from your blossoming cart, the server of your online banking goes down, crippling your transactions.

Quoting Alanis Morrissette, “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”

Reflecting on those personal experiences, I believe that I am not alone in feeling the sudden helplessness (and hopelessness) each time technology seems to fail me. Our incessant reliance on smartphones, laptops and other devices has reached unprecedented heights, blurring the lines between convenience and compulsion. Have we forgotten the conventional ways? Have we totally disposed of them?

The argument that we are becoming slaves to technology gains strength with each passing day. Yet, in this race toward the future, it is imperative to remember that technology is a mere tool, not a master. ―  AFP pic
The argument that we are becoming slaves to technology gains strength with each passing day. Yet, in this race toward the future, it is imperative to remember that technology is a mere tool, not a master. ― AFP pic

Studies have shown that excessive screen time can have adverse effects on mental health, sleep patterns and social interactions. It is not only about relying too much on gadgets. Social media has got us hooked and scrolling endlessly, taking a toll on our real, physical connections. Witnessing people glued on their mobile phones instead of talking to each other at a dining table, to exemplify, is now common, if not customary. Texting, instead of yelling your hearts out to call your children down for dinner has become more peaceful, energy-saving and rewarding, at least to me.

Furthermore, technology has taken over our work lives. Being always connected has made it a routine to be ‘on’ all the time, mixing up when we are supposed to be working and when we are not. Whilst many of us have normalised the extended hours of interaction via work-related WhatsApp groups, others might be impacted negatively. This constant digital pressure could be leading to burnout and stress as they find it hard to switch off from work, amidst other personal issues at home.

Besides, as automation and AI reshape industries, jobs hang in the balance. The emergence of ChatGPT, for instance, whilst benefiting human activities in wonderous ways, has raised debates over its consequences on the academic world, professionally, ethically and cognitively. While technology births new opportunities, it also renders skills obsolete, demanding constant adaptation and upskilling. Now these are the real challenges we all have to face.

The argument that we are becoming slaves to technology gains strength with each passing day. Yet, in this race toward the future, it is imperative to remember that technology is a mere tool, not a master.

To further illustrate how you could be a master of your own device, let’s take a look at the so-called “influencers” on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. They have various ways of, as the name suggests, influencing their followers. The good news is, of the vast population of influencers, you get to decide which are good or bad for you. Whether or not to follow, or whom to follow, the choice is yours. Whether or not to comment on any post, becoming a part of the ever-empathic netizens or not, again, the choice is yours.

In short, technology is a double-edged sword. We must wield it wisely, harnessing its power for progress while safeguarding against its potential pitfalls. The time has come for a delicate balance between embracing technology’s gifts and curbing its encroachment on our lives, for in that balance lies our true mastery over the tools we, humans, have created.

* Zaamah Mohd Nor is a Senior Lecturer at Academy of Language Studies, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Shah Alam.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.