Technology Networks and Behavioural Evolution

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In this essay I offer that the implications of continued technological networking, in all its forms, progresses the individual and society into a new era of socio-technological culture and behaviour. The development of networks amongst individuals, groups and technologies reinforce solidarity and develop new behaviours. In addressing this I will cover noted benefits from networking developments in the fields of: information networking, machine to machine networking, person to machine networking and person to person (or group to group) networking. In my analysis I will provide my predictions of where these networking technologies and bridges may lead society and behaviours.

In addressing the implications of various networks on socialisation via technology it is salient to appreciate evolution of information networking. As defined by Pahlavan and Levesque (2005, p. 4) “an information network is an infrastructure that interconnects telecommunications devices to provide them with the means for exchanging information”. Originally, computer networks were only able to transfer information between nodes through hardware, optic cables and wires (Zakon, R 1993). Wireless technology such as radio waves and more recently, Wi-Fi, allowed for much greater information networking with significantly less infrastructure not only in computer networks but earlier telegraph and radio infrastructure (Winseck, D & P Pike, R 2007, pp. 30-45). Though still reliant on physical connections via cable for overall network internet connectivity at hub locations, wireless connections have increased the reach and the consistency of access of this information network. This has continued to develop with the construction of smartphones, tablets and laptops, providing access to the information network via personal devices that are always at hand. So too does this represent a developing immediacy of real-time personal updates, progressing the information network to not only static media but constantly evolving news updates. The development of smartphones seems to represent a plateau of connectivity to the information highway as more recent concepts, internet enabled watches for example, do not enable further access to the information network (Stans, S 2018). This development of globally accessible information networks represents a large step towards a more educated and aware society and the continued pursuance of streamlined, wireless access endorses a society that is permanently connected. Creating an individual that is synonymous with the information that they have access, to representing not a human nor a computer but an augmented version of both, a cyborg if you will (Garfield, B 2016, pp. 1-34).

The Internet of Things notes a remarkable step of autonomous machine to machine networking, (Vermesan, O & Friess, P 2013, pp. 1-5). The Internet of Things strives for fully autonomous technological input into an individual’s life. An outsourcing of various logistical and manual tasks to Internet connected devices and interfaces that then develop decisions and behaviours without human input (World Bank Group 2017). It is however an interesting debate whether we are experiencing the Internet of Things currently, or if the technology for proper autonomous sensor driven outsourcing is still on the horizon ( 2018). Rather than prompt technology for a result, weather forecasts for example, the technology would automatically provide the information or action simply on the individuals presence or upon using a connection to other sensory technology, upon variation of the individual or environment. This reflects a more active interaction between the Internet of Things and the user, but more passive behaviours can benefit the individual and society. Street lamps, crossing lights and sensor focused alarm systems can all be operated autonomously for the greater societal good. Driverless cars, in theory represent an autonomous network of communicative vehicles that through networking could adjust for accidents in real time several vehicles away from the incident (Kaur, K & Rampersad, G 2018, p. 89). Though heavily debated, once the morality of fatality predicted accidents is condoned the driverless car, through sensory, networked and priority protection of life can represent a substantially safer pedestrian/traffic environment where loss of life is minimized(Calo, R 2018, p.34). The Internet of Things represents not only a step towards luxurious convenience for the individual but a method of removing human error from society.

In approaching the Internet of Things, it is appropriate to approach the development of user-technology networking regarding personalized operating systems. Technological advancement in the fields of virtual intelligence and artificial intelligence have created new avenues of human-technology interaction. AI systems that originally provided support for computers such as Siri, Cortana and Alexis are now literally household names, with the AI operating domestic duties such as entertainment and lighting (Guo et al. 2018, p. 1341). Google which was once just a search engine, like the others now provides real time information upon oral commands from users. This breeds a new era of convenience and reinforces new behaviour, rather than inputting text for results or information we see a development of a new orality. Numeracy and literacy become redundant so long as the orality is correct whilst Ong (1982) and Mcluhan (1962) may see this as a return to a primary orality that society has already experienced, I would offer that as auditory and sensory based technology develops society enters a new, third orality or even a new physicality. Text based input diminishes in the development of action-based input. Whilst touch screen interaction has existed since 1965 though arguably only becoming commercially relevant with the iPhone in 2007 (Orphanides, A & Nam, C 2017, p. 117). Tinder created the phenomena of “swiping left” a physical action to represent choosing “no”, that transcended the pictographs seen on the app (Kerckhove, A & Pandelaere, M 2018, pp. 633–647). Swiping left travelled beyond users of Tinder to be synonymous for rejection and as technology develops I believe that more physical inputs that transcend related pictographs will become the norm for technological interface. Virtual and augmented reality technologies too show a step in this direction, particularly in terms of educational programs (Pasco, D 2013, p. 430). Physicality is the learning experience rather than literacy or numeracy not only for adolescent education but in the development of professional skill sets in adults.

Above I cover the effects of intelligent technologies being receptive towards human networking but now I would like to address the development of a proactive social network between human and technology.  In 2016 Sophia made her first public appearance, coined a progressive social humanoid AI and whilst having the same ability as Siri, Alexis or Google to retrieve and access data for the user Sofia differs in her choices about said information (Retto, J 2017). Sophia represents a new horizon of techno-social interaction, of techno-moral choices and technological identifiers. Society’s journey to quantify and understand exactly what Sofia represents is in and of its self an evolution of our understanding of socializing and thusly networking. Can Sofia be identified as more than an object? Does she represent a social link that can be utilized like any human acquaintance? If yes, then what does this mean for other less-intelligent technologies? If not, then how do we categorize individuals who seek social interaction with technologies or do we blanket all intelligent technologies as purely receptive and ignore proactive social engagement as a façade of human engineering? As Sophia has only recently emerged for socio-technological considerations there isn’t much literature to appreciate the moral conundrums she represents. However, Pagallo in The Quest for the Legal Personhood of Robots (2018, p. 230) has developed a thorough approach to the legality of robots and whether society needs to identify them as equals, at least regarding the law.  It is uncertain whether this path of human to AI interaction will lead but the conversations that arise from the catalyst that is Sophia yield progressive steps to a more techno-diverse society.

Social networking through the Internet continues to develop human connections and provide peer interaction despite geographical obstacles (Boyd, D & Ellison, N 2007, p. 211). Apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter provide interaction and communication for individuals on global forums, providing an outlet for opinion on topics that they may not typically have access to. Authority and knowledge are no longer a requisite to commenting via the Internet and radical or otherwise erroneous perspectives can find solidarity in the vastness of the Internet (Wojcieszak, M 2009, p. 564). This vast network that, whilst lacking intimacy yields greater opportunities and avenues of interest through the relative ease of maintaining weaker social links. A strong link is described as a close, frequented relationship that due to familial interests cannot provide access to alternate activities or opportunities (Tang, J & Li, J 2015, p. 11). Whilst weaker social links can provide avenues into alternate activities, cultures and career paths, maintaining those links before they become to weak to utilise could be problematic. Through the utilisation of specific social networks that highlight your weak links, such as LinkedIn and Facebook these weak links are maintained through visible values. Facebook reminds you of your weak links’ activities, accomplishments and birthdays, regardless of whether this information is acted on, it keeps the weak link salient to your network. LinkedIn lists career specific values of an individual and thusly allows for planned utilisation of a weak link’s network. This is a very utilitarian view of weak links and doesn’t address the continued social benefit of acquaintances. The benefit of a technological framework that allows for the maintenance of large social networks of varying strengths not only reinforces humans as social creatures, but I believe reflects an evolution in the scale in which we socialise and thusly navigate societal niches.

Video-game culture has flourished with the development and implementation of the Internet in gaming consoles and hardware. Frameworks such as Facebook, linked in and Twitter offer a structure for social networks that reflect reality, enhancing or maintaining pre-existing social networks whilst video games offer a new networking experience (Lastowka, G 2010, p. 9). Whilst pre-existing relationships can be taken into a multiplayer experience it is far more salient to note the development of new social relationships between otherwise strangers. Through virtual interaction new networks are formed that can exist purely in that setting or bleed through into the real world. Virtual marriages and business deals can exist purely within virtual worlds or can be the catalyst for real world connections (Yee, N 2014, pp. 117-137). Romance through virtual worlds represents a notable evolution of social networking in society. Through virtual avatars that can either be similar or radically different to the user’s appearance links are formed that lead to real world pains despite any tangible experience in the real world. So too does the line of virtual and real blur with video-games such as Pokemon Go (Niantic, 2016), that despite having core virtual features, require real world physical activity. This integration of virtual and real, tangible experiences in both environments created not only a physical network of real-world participants but a virtual network of avatars (Wang, D et al. 2018, p. 460). I believe that dual networking through virtual and real worlds of distinct behaviour and interaction is a validation towards a societal acceptance of a new networking environment.

In this essay I have provided a brief view what I perceive to be developmental steps of societal change via technological networking frameworks. Information networking and the progression towards constant access for reflects an evolution towards an augmented society that is always connected to an information network. Machine to machine networking via the Internet of Things presents its own implications of evolution for self and society, developing an individual capable of outsourcing tasks for convenience or luxury whilst conceding the efficacy of autonomous control. AI networks in the home create new behaviour, reinforcing orality and physicality rather than literacy and numeracy. Social AI development like Sophia represent a new horizon of human-technology networking that society is reacting and adapting to that will set a precedent in the future of such. Social networks found on the Internet represent an evolution in the sheer scale of socialisation that individuals can experience and provide an unprecedented maintenance of their social networks. Finally, virtual networks and the duality of complimentary actions in the constructed and the real world represents a merging of social norms towards a new breed of behaviour towards realities. From each framework of technological networking I believe we see a strong step towards a cultural evolution of behaviours and socialisation. As these technologies and our interactions with such develop, humanity will continue to be shaped by the technologies we network with, a strong indicator of support for the techno-determinist approach towards societal development.

Words: 2084


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