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Frankly ... Posthuman
What does 5G technology bring us?

5G provides higher speed on smartphones.
The next generation? 5G is designed to make the Internet even faster on our smartphones. | Photo (detail): Rodion Kutsaev © Unsplash

Mega, Giga, Tera: The speed of the huge amounts of data in our mobile world determines the prosperity and thus the world peace. Liwen Qin worries about the price of progress.

By Liwen Qin

Today, 5G seems to be one of the most important technologies indicating the innovation strength of a nation. The competition of 5G technology is at the core of the trade war and the thaw in relations between China and the US, seemingly triggering a technology cold war of this century.

What is 5G?

5G is the 5th generation of mobile internet connection, offering faster speeds and more reliable connections on smartphones and other devices than ever before. 5G provides connections between 100 and 1000 times faster than current ones, with average download speeds of around 1GB per second.

How can we make use of such high speeds of mobile internet connection? The simplified answer is: individual users’ lifestyles would be changed, and industries and social management would be provided with new possibilities.

What brings us 5G?

For individual users, 5G would allow new entertainment and lifestyle: from instantly downloading and watching movies using mobile connection, to real-time AR/VR interactive games mixing with real-world experience (like hunting virtual dinosaurs on the streets). Everything, not just smart phones, but your cars, home electric appliances, etc., would be reachable, manageable and integrated into an intelligent environment to suit your needs and even create new demands.

For industries and social management, 5G will also provide an intelligent environment or infrastructure to make production, transportation and management much more efficient. Digitalization makes it possible to manage our world more efficiently, and 5G is a significant step to this efficiency.

An example

Imagine an automated driving truck shipping raw materials to a shoe factory everyday: all the materials have been calculated in real-time with big-data to avoid over-production, even for tailored production for individual customers who order them online. High speed of connection is needed for huge amounts of data to be transferred between millions of devices and digital infrastructures: smart phones, computers, warehouse management systems, smart transportation management systems, etc. It might create new forms of economy and new political and social cultures.

Pro and con

But there are warnings that we should heed as far as increased connectivity in the world is concerned, of course.

Individuals growing up in such a world might hand over more autonomy to machines, from their physical ability to interact with the world to their emotional ability to interact with real humans. If the machines are coded for protecting the interests of the ruling class, the individuals would have great difficulties rebelling against them, because their physical presence and communication would be easily monitored and even faked.

For industries and governments, security risks are immense. An operation carried out by the Australian government in early 2018 has shown that a country with 5G connections would be seriously exposed to outside attacks and spying. Everything, from electricity and water supply to waste management could become vulnerable targets. It might be used by political hackers to manipulate political elections or public opinions.

The challenges brought by 5G are probably as many as the opportunities it provides. Since the development of technology is unstoppable and should not be stopped, it is an urgent task for the world to assess fully the risks and challenges of 5G and develop equally efficient response mechanisms and measures to deal with them.

“Frankly …”

On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly …” column series is written by Liwen Qin, Maximilian Buddenbohm, Dominic Otiang’a and Gerasimos Bekas. In “Frankly … posthuman”, Liwen Qin takes a look at technical advances and how they affect our lives and our society: in the car, in the office, and at the supermarket checkout.