On Point: Q&A With Dr. William Halal
Professor emeritus of Management, Technology and Innovation at The George Washington University and author of the book Beyond Knowledge.
How has the pandemic changed the way people acquire and exchange information?
The pandemic highlights how modern societies are fragile and unable to cope with crises. We now face the stark realization that social institutions must be reformed to survive more pandemics, climate change and other threats. It is particularly sobering that many refuse to take precautions (masking, vaccines) because of unfounded beliefs, driving home the destructive power of disinformation.
How do people regain control of the truth and effectively counter disinformation?
Our TechCast project is studying the disinformation problem, and we are stunned to learn how difficult it is to handle knowledge accurately. We find an urgent need to enhance cultural attitudes that encourage truth, to teach people how to distinguish valid statements and to reform social media. It gets even worse. Disinformation is simply a small part of the far greater problem of how our prevailing mindset is unable to resolve these new crises.
What is the biggest role artificial intelligence will play in changing the future?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is automating knowledge work, raising the profound question, what lies beyond knowledge? By definition, everything beyond knowledge is consciousness itself—values, beliefs, purpose and other forms of higher-order thought. This means that AI, and the entire digital revolution, is inexorably driving the world toward an Age of Consciousness.
We simply do not understand this new frontier.
Your book, Beyond Knowledge, describes how technology is driving an age of consciousness. When, and how, will that change become irreversible?
Social evolution is causing the Knowledge Age to mature. The smartphone, for example, has made the world’s knowledge available to anyone, so there is no shortage of knowledge. Meanwhile, as AI drives the new frontier beyond knowledge, an Age of Consciousness is emerging even now. The dominance of consciousness is seen most visibly in the flood of post-factual nonsense that has frozen nations into gridlock. This may not be the consciousness we desire, but we are baffled by today’s madness precisely because it transcends logic, facts and rationality. And much more zaniness is sure to come. The great challenge facing civilization today is how to form a “global consciousness” able to avert disaster and create a sustainable global order. If successful, this would be the culmination of social evolution.
What do you think is the next great technology trend?
It is how the digital revolution is driving an Age of Consciousness. This changes everything.