by Josephine Xu

One of the most important issues for our generation is probably the convergence of the real world and the digital world. A few years back, IMB initiated the campaign “Smarter Planet” and many other companies followed with similar projects, like Cisco’s “Smart+Connected Communities” and HP’s “Central nervous system for the Earth”. These projects aim to provide a solution to ageing infrastructures, exploding health-costs and environmental problems. Research indicates that if smart systems can increase efficiency in the States alone by 5%, the greenhouse emission cut will be the same as throwing 53 million cars off the street. This number itself is impressive enough, not to mention the potential convenience for every individual.

It is almost impossible to deny the need for digital media and smart systems. When we check email, Facebook and Twitter on our phone, none of us actually realise how smartphones and smart systems have changed the way we communicate. Take AIESEC for example, we send out hundreds of emails to potential members during recruitments, invite all people we may or may not know on Facebook to our events, coordinate events over email, Skype and MSN, etc. I dare say that these are probably unthinkable in the last century. This new system allows us to work more efficiently, and probably make our organisation smarter. The question we need to ask now is, how far are we willing to go down this path? I can picture, without much difficulty, that a few years later we would never have to book rooms for info sessions because we can do them live online. If I am more daring, I can even imagine one day every LC in the world can join us in conferences from the comfort of their own country and we never have to pay expensive airfare again to meet new people and share experiences. Or in my wildest dream that one day each of us will have a sensor implanted in our body and we do not even need to have access to a computer and the entire world will be networked together.

If these systems are really smarter ways to live a life and do our job, what is stopping us from pushing for the implementation of them? One thing I can think of is that we will find it harder than Winston Smith ever could imagined to find somewhere to hind from others’ eyes. Moreover, there are thousands of highly skilled hackers out there waiting for new challenges. Most importantly, as Mr Gelernter suggested in “Mirror Worlds”, those of us have access to smart system would have a huge advantage to those who do not have access. This inequality in information will be a bigger problem than income inequality. These problems have already provoked some neo-Luddite reactions, even at the infant stage of smart system development. The unabomer, for example, targeted computer scientists through mail bombs. Until these problems can be addressed, the convergence between the real world and the digital world shall be put on hold. Myself as a COMMrad in AIESEC, do not mind sticking to posters and brochures, for I rather be smart than seem smarter.

Mirror Worlds by David Glenerter, Oxford University Press 1992

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