Leap of Faith: Reimagining the Relationship Between Technology and Human Understanding for a Fast-Changing World

by Ajay Bhalla

As technology outpaces the human mind what are the consequences for our understanding? How do you trust a world you may not fully comprehend? Mastercard’s Chief Security Solutions Officer, Ajay Bhalla, writes about trust in a future where we may all be more passenger and less driver.

If life’s a journey, then in 2018 we’re traveling by roller coaster.

The future exhilarates and surprises all of us. Sometimes there’s a glimpse of the twists and turns ahead. Other times we have no idea what’s around the corner. Technology is constantly rerouting the track ahead.

These changes are unprecedented. They challenge our ability to comprehend. Human understanding of the world developed slowly, incrementally. Thousands of years separate the invention of the wheel, the creation of the alphabet, and man’s first flight. We had time to adapt, learn new skills and acclimate ourselves to change.

Yet the internet is little older than a college graduate. The iPhone is younger than my children. Uber isn’t even out of elementary school, and blockchain is still in diapers. These technologies have either already changed the world, or are in the process of doing so.

The rate of invention will accelerate, too. The American thinker Richard Buckminster Fuller created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve” in 1982. He noticed that until 1900, the body of human knowledge doubled about once every 100 years. By the end of World War II, knowledge was doubling every 25 years. On average it’s now taking a year, and the imminent explosion of device connectivity promises to cut it to weeks, days and even hours.

This is great. It is bringing us advances in medical science, new cures, solutions to climate change, and a massive democratization in access to information. But it has created more noise too. Fake news, internet memes, disinformation, and confusion. Sometimes it feels like we have gained data, but lost focus. People are feeling as unsettled about change as they are dazzled by it.

Our response to this should be to engender trust. Each day we are asking people to take a leap of faith in technology. Maintaining that faith means setting standards, rules, and protocols for the technologies we are creating. Machine learning is just the start of a process by which the world will be shaped not by us, but for us. At the moment we are in direct control. We are active participants in the digital revolution. We operate our apps and mobile devices, we communicate through social media, and we make real time decisions about how to spend our money. But in future the world will feature fewer human decisions and far more automated, autonomous, and robotic ones. We’re witnessing an explosion in connected devices – 50 billion anticipated by 2020. In this Internet of Things, machine speaks to machine. We’ll trust our fridge to tell our online retailer what groceries to deliver, allow the smartphone tapped on a subway turnstile to tell our heating system what time we’ll be home, and the weather forecast will operate our garden sprinkler system. Today we consult machines in order to make our decisions. Tomorrow they will consult each other in order to make theirs. But responsibility for the decisions remains with the human race.

Take the example of autonomous vehicles.  When people finally decide to trust them, it won’t be because they have each taken the vehicles apart, examined the technology, read the code, and concluded it is safe. It will be because they are confident that the technology is proven, the intelligence is secure, the rules have been written and standards defined. They will decide that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Trust is a currency. It has value. And it needs to be earned. People may trust companies with their data, for example, but they cannot take that trust for granted. Look at the damage done to Facebook recently. Billions upon billions of dollars wiped off the value of the company. Trust appears to have been breached and at considerable cost.

Learn more about the 2017 Digital Trust Index as part of the MasterCard and Fletcher Digital Evolution Index

Part of restoring trust may be in returning digital identity to the individual. We are seeing an important shift in this direction. Think of your digital identity as a wallet which contains lots of identifying information.  At the moment different, elements of that information lie on different servers with different institutions and retailers. But in future you will be able to decide which element of verified data you produce from your wallet, without having to share other data relating to your identity. So, for example, if asked for proof that you’re over 18, you’d be able to confirm that without having to give your date of birth.

Trust has long been the bedrock of our business at MasterCard. We are moving towards frictionless technology, but not at the cost of vulnerability, and not without rigorous standards. We’re partnering with appliance manufacturers to embed our trusted technology in connected devices. We’re encrypting and tokenizing payments. We’re replacing the password with the person: using biometric measurements such as fingerprint, voice, facial, and iris recognition and using behavioral metrics to pre-empt and stop fraud. As others gain access to such technology, so we will create a more trusted environment.

This is why we value our partnership with the Fletcher School. For a decade we’ve worked together to develop a better understanding of our digital future, most recently with the publication of the Digital Evolution Index. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend that you do. It demonstrates just how important trust will be when we take a leap of faith to the next level of connectivity.

The way we think and do business is changing. For my generation, progress was secured through competition. But for the next generation of leaders, the answer can only be collaboration.

The leap of faith shouldn’t be blind. It needs to be informed by trust and collaboration.

Ajay Bhalla is Chief Security Solutions Officer at MasterCard. He leads the team within MasterCard that develops product solutions to ensure the safety, security and experience of our products and solutions for consumers, merchants, partners and governments around the world. His work with IBGC has included authoring articles alongside Dean Bhaskar Chakravorti as part of the Digital Evolution Index.

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