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Techno-social Futures

By Steve Wells, Rohit Talwar, and Alexandra Whittington

A world of increasingly digital services and digitised existence opens up a growing set of societal concerns, expectations, and policy challenges. Here, we explore some of the latest developments and future implications of social technologies.

A new type of digitally-enabled non-state power is emerging with the ability to use our personal and social data to deliver highly personalised solutions. Furthermore, the application of artificial intelligence (AI) to the vast amounts of big data being collected regarding our habits is enabling entities to track, predict, and influence our behaviour. Below are some of the ways that social technology delivers constant insights to eager public and private recipients of big data.

Face Recognition

Face recognition is a method of identifying or verifying the identity of an individual using their face matched to photos, video, or often in real-time. Some experts see faces as the ultimate single biometric identifier, with many experiments now underway to perfect the technology.

Location-Based Services

Location-based services (LBS) use real-time geo-data from a mobile device or smartphone to allow the targeting of specific information, entertainment, and ecommerce options to the individual consumer. LBS is one of the strategies of surveillance capitalism, which relies on the ability to monitor digital activity in order to market and sell products.

Continuous Intelligence

The expectation is that, given current rates of development in AI in particular, more than half of major new business systems will incorporate continuous intelligence. These will use real-time context data to provide more comprehensive situational awareness and thus help improve decisions but also suggest greater surveillance of individuals.

Public Mood Monitoring

Mood monitoring can be done with a variety of technologies, from mining the tweets exchanged in an urban area to looking at the micro-expressions on the faces of people as they are captured by security cameras. Such real time information could inform mood altering actions on a continuous basis.

Behavioural Revolution

An area of behavioural economics that is gaining importance is analysis of massive data collection to make predictions about the near-term collective future – from travel destination choices to the food we want to eat. The hope is that this will become a growing business resource for improving efficiencies, cutting costs, speeding up processes, and accelerating learning.


Robot politicians, or polibots/roboticians could soon represent human citizens in digital democratic societies and policy-making might enter the early phases of automation. In 2018, a robot ran unsuccessfully for the role of mayor in Tama City, Japan. As life becomes increasingly digital, how far away are we from a robotic or AI world leader?

The Future of Social Tech

The trends listed here explore many of the underlying developments that could drive opportunity and increase public concerns about living in the digital era.

In the near-term, concerns will likely grow over surveillance capitalism – companies generating commercial value from our data without explicit permission to do so. The debate will rumble on over the regulatory and governance challenges and opportunities associated with political transparency, personal privacy, and individual freedoms in the information age. The regulatory choices made will spawn new information-protector businesses and could destroy existing data abusers.

In 20 years’ time, could notions such as anonymity and privacy be quaint historical concerns in a world where our lives are carried out in public 24/7 and under constant surveillance by those who govern and serve us? We expect the future of social tech will be interesting.


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