The Future Of: The Technological Society

Featuring Professor Katina Michael | Faculty of Engineering & Information Sciences

“The Future Of…” series asks a variety of UOW experts and researchers the same five questions, to provide insight into the potential future states of our lives, communities and world.

Katina Michael is a professor in the School of Computing and Information Technology at UOW. Katina is formerly the long standing IEEE Technology and Society Magazine editor-in-chief (2012-2017), and presently an IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine senior editor. Since 2008 she has been a board member of the Australian Privacy Foundation.


Michael researches on the socio-ethical implications of emerging technologies. She has written and edited six books, guest edited numerous special issue journals on themes related to radio-frequency identification (RFID), supply chain management, location-based services, innovation, robotics and surveillance/uberveillance. In 2017, Katina was awarded the prestigious Brian M. O'Connell Award for Distinguished Service to the IEEE Society on the Social Implications of Technology (IEEESSIT).


What are you researching or working on in 2018?

At the heart of my research is the interplay of engineering, law, policy and society. Alongside MG Michael and my colleagues, I will continue to add to the research on uberveillance (exaggerated pervasive embedded surveillance) at the operational layer with respect to the internet of things, data protection and human rights. This extends to the ongoing two-factor authentication requirements with the aggressive rollout of biometrics - especially facial and behavioural recognition systems and also unauthorised and covert tracking technologies and notions of transparency. In the same vein, I will also investigate the use of wearable cameras and corresponding visual analytics for augmented reality capabilities in law enforcement.

I’ll continue to examine socio-ethical approaches to robotics and artificial intelligence developments and their implications for humans, as well as the risks of bio-implantables.

Blockchain registers and everyday transactional data flows in finance, education, and health are also something that interests me.

In regards to your field of study or expertise what are some of the most innovative or exciting things emerging over the next few years?

Advances within the health sector including devices and implantables, acting as the hub for body area networks allowing for precision medicine and read-write shares within a world built on the Internet of Things ideology. Solutions will be created that allows remote health systems to monitor your drug taking behaviours, daily exercise routines, and wander/fall-down alerts.

Human modification will continue to become popular with exoskeletons, transputation (humans opting for non-human parts), and the ability to do things that were once considered ‘superhuman’ (e.g. carrying 2-3 times one’s body weight, or extending human height through artificial limbs).

Brain to computer interfaces will be established to help the disabled with basic accessibility of communications and everyday fundamental necessities (e.g. feeding oneself). However, breakthroughs in this space will quickly be adopted by industry for applications in a variety of areas, with the primary focus being entertainment and search services.

Personal Artificial Intelligence (AI) services that will be able to gather content and provide for you thought-specific level data when you need it will become available - your life as one long reality-TV episode, captured, ready for playback in visual or audio, adhering to private-public space differentials. Captured memories and spoken word will be admissible evidence in a future e-court.

In regards to your field of study or expertise what are some of the things readers should be cautious/wary of over the next few years?

The technology we are being promised will get very personal and trespass privacy rights. Whereby in 1984 we were assured that at least the contents of our brain were private, today behavioural biometrics alongside detailed transactional data flows, can provide some level of proactive profile of everyday consumers.

Retaining anonymity is difficult, some would say near impossible. We have surveillance cameras and smart phones and watches that track our every movement, smartTV’s and smart hub devices that watch and listen to us in our homes, IOT devices that monitor motion detection and human activity in private spaces, and social media that has the capacity to store instantaneous thoughts and multimedia across contexts. This loss of privacy will have psychological impacts and fallout, whether it be in increasing rates of mental illness, or in the personal space we require to develop and grow as human beings, that right to freedom to learn and reflect from our mistakes in private.

Technology will provide a false sense of security and impact on fundamental values of trust in human relationships. For some an over-reliance on wearable and implantable technologies will mean a dysfunctional life as they wrestle with what it means to be human and answer the fundamental question of who-ness.

Learning to live with technologies such as robots and AI will create paradigms that will take some getting used to - new laws, policies, and business models will need to be developed. Do robots have rights? And if so, do they ever supersede those of human rights? What will happen when ‘machines start to think’ and make decisions?

Where do you believe major opportunities lie for youth thinking about future career options?

This is pretty simple, although I am biased, it is ‘all things digital’. If I was doing a degree today, I would be heading into biomedical engineering, neuroethics and cybersecurity. On the flip-side of this, I see the huge importance of young people thinking about social services in the very ‘human’ sense.

While we are experimenting with brain implants for a variety of illnesses, including for the treatment of major depressive disorder, and DNA and brain scanning technologies for early detection, I would say the need for counsellors (e.g. genetic) and social workers will only continue to increase.

We need health professionals, psychologists and psychiatrists who get ‘digital’ problems: a sense of feeling overwhelmed with workloads and instantaneous communications. Humans are analog, computers are digital. This cross-road will cause individuals great anxiety. It is a paradox. We’ve never had it so good in terms of working conditions, and yet we seem to have no end to social welfare and mental health problems in our society.

As life expectancies continue to grow in most economic systems, pressures to find solutions to food security (e.g. fisheries), renewable energy sources, biodiversity and climate change will increase. What good is the most advanced and super networked world, when rising sea levels will inevitably cause significant losses? Today’s youth could aim to be more discerning to use our computing powers to model and predict changes to the earth to implement long term solutions.

In regards to your field of study or expertise, what is the best piece of advice you could offer to our readers?

The future is what we make of it. While computers are helping us to translate better and to advance once remote villages, I advocate for the preservation of culture and language, music and dance and belief systems. In diversity there is richness. Some might feel the things I’ve spoken about above are hype, others might advocate them as hope, and still others might say this is their future if they have anything to do with it.

Industry and government will dictate continual innovation as being in the best interest of any economy, and I don’t disagree with this basic premise. But innovation for what and for whom? We seem to be sold the promises of perpetual upgrades on our smartphones and likely soon our own brains through memory enhancement options.

It will be up to consumers to opt-out of the latest high tech gadgetry, and opt-in to a sustainable future. We should not be distracted by the development of our own creations, rather use them to ensure the preservation of our environment and healthier living. Many are calling for a re-evaluation of how we go about our daily lives. Is the goal to live forever on earth? Or is it to live the good life in all its facets? And this has to do with our human values, both collectively and individually. 

For more from Professor Katina Michael you can also explore more of Katina's work and projects on her website here.

A story featuring Katina titled 'Disconnected' also features in The Stand. View it here.