Faculty Members Represent the Institute in New Report on Next Decade of Digital Change

How is the digital world expected to change in the next decade and beyond? Computer Science Professor Calton Pu is one of three Georgia Tech faculty members contributing to a new report seeking to answer this question.

Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center and the Pew Research Center published As AI Spreads, Experts Predict the Best and Worst Changes in Digital Life By 2035, on June 21. The 232-page report includes insights from more than 300 experts on how they imagine digital trends might change by 2035.

Along with Pu, Associate Professor Richard Barke from the School of Public Policy, and Digital Media Associate Professor Christopher Le Dantec, also represent Georgia Tech in the report.

When asked how they feel about possible developments in digital technology in the next decade, 42% of experts said they were equally excited and concerned. Thirty-seven percent said they were more concerned than excited.

Pu said he expects digital trends to be beneficial in many ways. But one of the main roadblocks in progress has been the standard ML practice of training models that are insensitive to evolutionary changes in time, making them obsolete at some point. Pu, who is the John P. Imlay, Jr. Chair in Software in the School of Computer Science, says future technology will likely overcome this obstacle. But he also thinks that as the power of technology increases, so will its influence, for better or worse.

“The power of AI/ML tools, particularly if they become sustainable and remain amoral, will be greater for both good and evil. We have seen significant harm from misinformation on the Covid-19 pandemic, dubbed as an ‘infodemic’ by the World Health Organization.

“More generally, it is being implemented in political propaganda in every election and every war. It is easy to imagine the depth, breadth, and constant renewal of such propaganda and infodemic, as well as their impact, all growing with the capabilities of future AI/ML tools used by powerful companies and governments,” said Pu, who is co-director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Experimental Research in Computer Systems.

Pu said AI/ML tools will likely become more widespread in the coming years. This might be an exciting idea for content producers, but it could be a problem when online users consume such content without critically thinking.

“The great digital divide is not going to be between the haves and have-nots of digital toys and information,” said Pu. “With more than six billion smartphones in the world (estimated in 2022), an overwhelming majority of the population already has access to and participates in the digital world.

“The digital divide in 2035 will be between those who think critically and those who believe misinformation and propaganda. This is a big challenge for democracy, a system in which we thought more information would be unquestionably beneficial. In a brave new digital world, a majority can be swayed by the misuse of amoral technological tools.