"As technology accelerates past the evolution of our wisdom and regulation, we risk opening Pandora’s box"
- Lydia Hingston

The moment your alarm goes off; your shower turns on and your coffee machine warms up. Your watch takes your vitals; ECG, blood levels, and updates your doctor. Half an hour later; your car turns on, your engine warms, you’re ready to drive to work.

This is the new age of the Internet of Things (IoT), driven and delivered by 5G - the fifth generation of mobile connectivity. To put 5G into perspective, it will take 6 seconds to download an 8GB HD-film. 5G will be able to connect 1 million devices, a staggering 1,000 times more than a 4G cell tower. The internet society anticipates up to 100 billion IoT devices will be connected, with a global economic impact exceeding $11 trillion by 2025.

But how can we make sure we take hold of 5G and not let it take hold of us?

Driverless cars

5G technology delivers 1 millisecond delays, 400 times faster than the blink of an eye. Such tiny communication delays will deliver us a platform that supports driverless cars and autopilot driving. These cars are hypothesised to decrease the cost of accidents by $100-$200 billion annually and decrease journey times through inter-vehicle communication and route planning. There have been many compelling technological advances, and an idea originating in science fiction, now seems close to a reality.

This comes with a number of related ethical considerations. For example, imagine your driverless car is approaching an intersection. Suddenly a group of pedestrians step out right in front of you. Should your car stay on its intended path and hit the pedestrians, or turn and crash into a shed, harming you, the passenger, but sparing the pedestrians? Further, who gets to decide on the logic coded into driverless hardware? If a crash occurs, who is responsible: the ‘driver’, the bystanders, the car owner, or the car manufacturer? Deloitte has depicted four transport future-states, and the possible impacts on autonomous car engineers, who may face huge liability in the case of a catastrophic accident. The future of mobility promises to revolutionise insurance as we know it.

As well as ethical dilemmas, we need to consider the possible societal impacts of driverless cars. An autonomous car society will require a complete overhaul of our current transportation infrastructure, as described by Deloitte. A technology promising to revolutionise the world and offer a 90% reduction in car accidents, is also likely to increase the wealth divide in our society.

Consider the following scenario. Autonomous cars will become time-savers for white-collar workers who engage in remote work. High-income consumers will be early and wide-spread adopters of the “safer” autonomous car. Cities will be geographically forced to expand, as low-income earners will be driven into the central city. This will likely result in another wave of segregation in society, as the high-income earners react and move into the exurbs.

What could this mean? Along with a legislation overhaul, the New Zealand government will need to consider introducing regional housing taxes and land-use policy reforms, and promote affordable housing in new communities: all areas where New Zealand is already bursting at the seams to try and accommodate.

Smart healthcare

Like driverless cars, smart healthcare is probable with 5G. Deloitte predicts healthcare will be driven by data. Think real-time feedback from insulin pumps, pacemakers and remote patient monitoring through smart clothing telecommunication. Any cause for concern and biomarker updates will instantly alert your physician. Large-scale data handling will become a mission with potential for misuse if in the wrong hands. Going forth with 5G in New Zealand, we need to ensure relevant legislative controls are put in place to safeguard our society. In 2016, the EU majorly overhauled its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to create new legislation, which protects EU citizens and their data-access rights. New Zealand will need to design and implement frameworks to protect our citizens and ensure ethical data use. For example, health data should not be misused through big data sharing with insurance parties.

Driving the message home

Everyone is getting ready for 5G. Mobile technology giants are developing 5G hardware, compatible cell-phones, hoping to begin 5G rollout in 2020. Deloitte expects it will take many years to deploy a functioning 5G landscape, as a gigantic infrastructure overhaul with an equivalent price tag is required. However, a hyper-connected society has potential to marginalise those who lack access to compatible technology. We need to consider and plan for the associated social and ethical impacts of 5G as well as the political ramifications and protective legislation requirements. Boundaries need to be put in place to tame the extraordinary possibilities we are otherwise going to see.

5G development needs to be based on wisdom. Otherwise in a world of unimagined innovations – whether that’s smart healthcare, driverless cars, smart lives or citizen surveillance – we risk opening Pandora’s Box.

Written by Lydia Hingston, a summer intern in our technology consulting team. Lydia is passionate about digital enablement and was selected to visit Huawei headquarters in Shenzhen China where she learnt about IoT and 5G technologies.

Want to stay up-to-date?

Stay on trend and in the know when you sign up for our latest content