POST-INFORMATION SOCIETY: RESTRUCTURING HUMAN SOCIETY
By Dr Ehab Khalifa
The world is witnessing a new revolution, fuelled by Artificial Intelligence, internet of things, block chains, 3D printers, crypto currencies, 5G, microchip implant, to name but a few of the new types of smart technology that are expected to change the face of life. Besides the acceleration of technological empowerment for human societies to adapt with Covid-19 neonormal life, that affected work, learning, and shop mechanisms to function normally, through the internet, would make the “information society” a thing of the past. In such societies, the fine line between what is human and what is nonhuman would be eliminated; machines would have increasing roles over humans, artificial intelligence would be a main component in every job and task, and finally; give the chance to the “post-information society” (PIS) to form.
This type of new society represents the fifth generation of the societies that humanity has known so far, that come after the previous four generations which are: the hunter-gatherer society, the agricultural society, the industrial society and the information society.
The PIS is a society where Information becomes a task in itself, a task carried out as soon as one thinks about it—the information and the machine on the one hand and the human mind on the other hand become one thing. This study first focuses on the precursors to the Shift from the Information Society to the Post-Information Society, starting from Frank Webster Elements of the information society, after that studying the post-information society and its main characteristics.
This study is a desktop research study, trying to question the post-information society through the theoretical framework provided by Frank Webster for the information society. It then addresses how did the fourth industrial revolution pave the way for the post-information society, depending on Webster’s elements of information society, which are the technological, economic, occupation, spatial, and cultural elements.
Frank Webster’s elements of information society
One of the most important theorists as far as information society is concerned is Frank Webster, who, in his book Theories of Information Societies (1995), explains that there are five basic elements on which an information society is based-namely, a technological element, an economic element, an occupational element, a spatial element and a cultural element.
Webster states that the information society underwent two phases of development to finally become what it is now. The first phase, which spanned the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s, was marked by the advent of personal computers. This phase was marked by the appearance of computer networks and TV broadcasting that uses satellites. As for the second phase, it began in the mid-1990’s and witnessed the advent of new means of communication, such as email, text messages and the internet. Webster believes that the wide popularity the internet has gained, and the fact that it has come to be used in all fields (economy, education, industry, politics, etc), make it possible for us to say that the new system is already in effect. This new system mainly capitalises on communication technology, which, according to Webster, is the key to the future, in such a way that failure to keep up with the rapid development in communication technology would mean extinction.
This is why information technology is associated with the Third Industrial Revolution, which covered the period from the 1960’s to the beginning of the 21st century. After that, the Fourth Industrial Revolution began to be discussed, led by smarter technology which paves the way for the post-information society. It is noteworthy that while “information” is the building block of the information society, smart Technologies like Artificial Intelligence is the basic element of the post-information society.
The Post-information society according to Webster’s elements
Returning to Webster’s theory of information society development, the post-information society is also unfolding in two phases: the first is the breakthrough of the fourth industrial revolution and the wide proliferation of its smart technologies, which could be seen during the first decade of the 21st century. The second phase, which appeared during Covid-19 lockdowns, witnessed the deployment of smart technologies on daily life, to work, learn and shop through the internet, means that the system is already in effect. This is exactly what Webster indicated, that technological development will result in societies of placeless connectivity; users will always be connected to the internet, regardless of temporal and spatial circumstances.
Webster argues that there is simply more information at present and this produces an information society. Accordingly, there is more smartness today (smart government, smart homes, smart city, etc) and that is why we could have a post-information society or a Smart Society. Webster then added another definition to information society saying that it is not about the quantity of the information we have, but how the information changed the way we live and that is exactly what happens in the post information society—smart technologies, dependent on big data, have changed the way we live and think.
When applying Webster’s elements on post information society this results in the following:
The technological element—Webster argued that the new technologies which appeared since the late 1970’s have been taken to signal the information society. These technologies include: cable and satellite television, video games, personal computers, online information services, laptops, computer-to-computer communication, the world wide web and smart phones. Webster suggests that such a volume of technological innovation must lead to a reconstitution of the social world because its impact is so profound. So, if these previous technologies, which are the spark of the third industrial revolution, impact the social world, the smart technologies of the fourth industrial revolution also deeply impact the social world. For example, instead of using Google Maps, as is the case in the information society, a member of the post-information society would simply use a self-driving car or even a drone. In a similar vein, instead of being instructed, robots would autonomously analyse and process the information received by sensors implanted everywhere and then make their own decisions. The internet of things would offer humans services that anticipate their needs. Administration systems would also become all the more decentralised, thanks to the block chain technology. Therefore, information would turn into a task in its own right and humanity would move from the information phase to the post-information phase.
The aforementioned shows that the shift to the post-information society has already started and that some realise that humanity will, in the near future, look different. The world is about to enter a new stage of its history—a stage dominated by super intelligence and machines. We will soon witness the AI society or the Cyber society. These terms reflect attempts to describe the future, though it is difficult to predict how it will be like with utmost precision. However, such terms identify the driving forces which will bring about this future, its features and implications. This will be dealt with in the following sections.
The economic element—implies that once the greater part of the economic activity is consumed by information activities, rather than subsistence agriculture or industrial manufacturing, it follows that we may speak of an information society. The looming changes to the economy is very clear to different nations who have begun to ready themselves for the post-information phase, by re-thinking their industrial strategies to be more dependent to smart technologies. The driving forces of these technologies are, for instance: the internet of things, AI, robotics, 3D printing, quantum computers, bioengineering (etc). These are motivating states to adopt new strategies that would guarantee that they maintain their position as leading economic countries in the post-information phase.
In 2011, for instance, (former) US President Barack Obama launched the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Initiative to secure US leadership in the area of industry and enhance US ability to compete in the field of new technology globally. The Obama administration then adopted the slogan “US Re-industrialisation” with the aim of providing jobs in the industry sector. Similarly, Germany launched the New High-Tech Strategy (2020), which focuses on turning innovative ideas in the field of technology into real-life applications. Britain adopted the Energy and Industrial Strategy 2050. Japan adopted an Internet of Things Strategy, with the aim of maintaining its leading position in relation to competitors. In 2015, France adopted the Industry of the Future Strategy, which is a plan that would help re-industrialise France through focusing on smart technology, notably in the area of smart cities, transportation, medicine, and huge data. In 2016, South Korea similarly adopted a Growth Strategy which aims at re-thinking the Korean industrial strategies and focusing on the fields of AI, the internet of things, smart cars, and medicine. China has also had its say here; by declaring the Made in China 2025 Strategy, which was declared in May 2015.
The occupational element—posits that we have achieved an information society when the preponderance of occupations are found in information work. Similar to the post information society, that we have a post-information society when the preponderance of occupations is smart work. The decline of manufacturing employment and the rise of service sector employment in an information society is interpreted as the loss of manual labour and its replacement with white-collared work, since the raw material of the non-manual labor is information. The same is also occurring in the post information society. The increasing influence that AI applications are gaining will influence the nature of jobs and employment procedures, even the service sector that appeared in the information society will be heavily affected by AI applications. For instance, it will soon be possible to have job interviews where the interviewers are computers that have the ability to analyse gestures and facial expressions with precision. Many other manual and mental jobs will be affected like accountants, lawyers, drivers and analysts.
Using AI and smart technology on a wider scale in the economic, political and social sectors can, of course, result in limiting the role of humans and human intelligence. Computers are already successfully invading areas of life that were previously considered exclusively human domains. Development in robot making, 3D printing, genetics and computers has already made it possible for AI applications to do the jobs of engineers, doctors, composers and even artists. Economic experts have expressed concern over the fact that capitalising on AI would mean unemployment for large numbers of humans. The latest DESA report shows that by 2050, the global population will have reached 9.8 billion people, more than 6 billion of these will be of working age, but 71 million youth will be in need of employment. This is a key reason why new technology can be considered a threat to job markets. Indeed, a paper presented at the Davos Economic Forum (2018) showed that, by 2026, 1.4 million jobs in the US [alone] will be endangered because of technological developments. It also stated that 47% of jobs face the threat of changing into jobs that depend on computers. On the other hand, new technology such AI applications, 3D printing and robotics and help create new job opportunities and products for consumption.
The spatial element—emphases information networks, which connect locations and have profound effects on the organisation of time and space. It is common to stress the centrality of information networks that may link different locations within and between an office, a town, a region, a continent, indeed the entire world, the wired world as Webster highlighted. This wired world in the information society, could be a wireless world in the post-information society, where individuals would be connected to the others and to public and private services wirelessly, through smart chips implanted in human brains and bodies regardless of the place and time limitations. And, it is not a matter of wireless communication only, it is also a matter of controlling the physical environment from a distance, actually from very large distance, like telemedicine, where doctors can undertake critical surgeries from distance using 5G technologies and robotics; drones can deliver goods and items anywhere, even to the middle of the sea; crypto currencies that never existed in any physical place before or after. In the post-information society geography does not a matter if there is an internet connection.
The cultural element—the post-information society is likely to redefine the social, political and the economic and can also redefine the global, the human and the moral. This implies new moral challenges will be faced in the post-information society. The concept of “justice,” for instance, will be questioned and challenged and we will have difficult questions to answer in the light of the dominance of technology. Who should be held accountable in case a self-driving car kills a pedestrian? Is it the computer that drives the vehicle, the person who owns it, the company that manufactured it, the country that paves the roads where these cars move, or someone else? What about the value of work when robots replace humans in factories? What about the value of privacy when it is people themselves who put their own personal information on social networks? What about family ties and relations which have been reduced to WhatsApp groups? What about state sovereignty in the light of IT companies having access to people’s personal information? What about loyalty and belongingness in a world where new technology is quickly replaced by newer technology, which is soon replaced by much newer technology (etc)? These are some of the questions that need to be answered.
It is not only human values that will be challenged, there will also be questions about the values and rights of the smart machines. It is expected that there will be activists whose prime concern will be to demand better conditions for robots in the post-information society and ask questions such as: what if people abused robots? What if they hindered them from doing their job properly? What about robot citizenship rights? What about robots’ right to have a nationality? Can there be laws and regulations that protect robots from human misuse or abuse?
Characteristics of Post information society
Technological development in post-information society will reshape human society on various levels and the features of this new society, different as they are from those of the information society, as they will impact the nature of the country and government jobs. They will also create new types of security threats and will also lead to new forms of human-machine relationships including robots that help humans in their affairs, at work and home, autonomous cars, drones that determine threats and deal with it and other types of new relations that will shape the post-information society. Here are some key characteristics:
1. Greater chances for rapidly developing countries, no matter how small or poor these countries are: A country’s ability to influence international relations and to achieve its strategic goals has always been associated with the resources available which were related to the size of the country and its population. This traditional concept of power may be revolutionised because of current technological developments. If small countries are able to take part in the technological race, they will be more powerful than larger ones that fail to keep up with technological development. Therefore, we can say that the future is shaped through technological innovation. Investment in technology can enhance small countries’ capabilities to levels not seen in traditional balance of power models.
2. Individuals will have more influence: Technological development has given individuals the chance to enhance their influence for better and worse. In security affairs, individuals can now purchase relatively cheap explosives online, they can ‘print’ weapons on 3D printers, deploy them on drones and direct them via smart phone applications.
3. New types of competition to control individuals’ personal information: With the growing popularity of the internet, in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, certain laws were passed with the aim of protecting people’s data on the internet. At that time, data was relatively limited and users needed no more than their names, personal photos and phone numbers to use the internet. However, with technological development, the nature of personal data on the internet was complicated. Currently, such data can include biometrics (e.g. of the eye, hand, face, etc.), as well as data that have to do with users’ health, location, schedule, friends, family, and personal preferences (in food, drinks, music, movies, books, etc.), This makes data and information among the main causes of conflict in the post-information society, being the driving force of all kinds of smart technology.
4. Better understanding of societal trends and individual priorities and preferences: It will be possible to identify people’s interests, priorities and preferences with great precision through analysing huge data from digital platforms (e.g. internet websites, virtual markets, social networking websites, etc.) and from sensors and CCTV cameras that will be everywhere in the post-information society. This will help improve understanding of societies through gaining a better understanding of individuals which, in turn, can prove very useful in improving the quality of services and catering to people’s preferences. Though this can mean a lot to people’s wellbeing, it can also mean that information will be under the control of political authorities that can easily misuse it by influencing attitudes. Governments may also use the information against representatives of political opposition. This constitutes an important threat to democracy and the Cambridge Analytica scandal is a good example of that.
5. Difficulty controlling the smart machine environment that will result from technological development: New technology depends on developments in AI in a way that can result in the creation of machines that can make decisions more autonomously than they currently do. These independent machines will be everywhere. For instance, self-driving cars will be on the road heading to their destinations via routes they choose for themselves without human guidance. They will also decide speed for themselves and where to stop. Drones will become all the more popular and will be used for military, civil and commercial purposes. Smart applications that can protect themselves against viruses and cyber-attacks will gain more popularity and wider circulation. Phones will charge themselves. Such developments would create a new kind of environment, based on AI, which will be difficult for humans to control.
6. Cyborgs: half-human, half-machine creatures: Robots can now only think but in the near future they will be able to feel too. They will, in other words, turn from machines into cyborgs, or half-human, half-machine creatures. Some people may even find in robots, rather than humans, companions and spouses capable of satisfying emotional and sexual needs and worthy of their love and even sacrifice. This would be an abandonment of the human for the sake of the cyborg. On the other side Elon Musk’s Neuralink company advocates the implanting of electronic chips in people’s brain so that they can accomplish “super-human” tasks and in the near future could also be used in workplaces so that managers can watch the employees doing their job from afar. Similarly, parents could implant such chips in their children for safety purposes, too. In addition, these chips can replace traditional IDs and be used for keeping track of patients’ health conditions and monitoring their vitals. This change of robots into half-humans and the change of the humans into half-robots, will pave the way for a new species—the cyborg.
The upcoming period will see the emergence of the post-information society, that have an effect on in people’s lives and lifestyles, as well as in the way countries, institutions and conflicts are managed and conducted. Such changes will result from forms of technology which, compared to human skills, are generally smarter and more efficient. These forms of technology include AI systems, 3D printers, 4D printers, the internet of things, self-driving cars, drones, quantum computers, and Block chain systems, which can be used in taking care of all types of human interaction. This unprecedented development can reformulate much of what is taken for granted in our lives, re-defining concepts, ideas, laws and human values. When this occurs, it will not be strange for people to talk about robot rights and it is not unlikely that activists will stress that robots, being half-human, should have a right to a nationality and should also have the right to get married, obtain degrees and bring charges against others. These activists may even say that robots have a right to vote and to be politically represented.
As robots will gradually become indispensable, many established concepts will need to be re-thought. These concepts include justice, equality, freedom, etc. For instance, how can justice be defined if a robot or a machine is assaulted and destroyed by a human while doing its job? In other words, who exactly has the right to bring the assaulter to justice? What if a self-driving car killed a pedestrian or a driver in its effort to save its passenger’s life? What about equality? Will we be able to speak about equality in a world where robots are far more competent than humans? Besides, how can privacy be maintained in a society which is totally an open book to machines? How can freedom be seen if one of the two parties (i.e. humans and robots) managed to control and dominate the other? Generally speaking, what will human life be like then? What will cities and societies look like? Will they stay the same or change on account of such monumental technological developments? The core question here is: What will the future of humanity be like in the light of this powerful ‘merger’ between humans and machines? Will there be ‘mixed families,’ some of which members are humans and others are robots in the end of the day? All in all the future looks bright, but also confused.
 Dr Ehab Khalifa is Head of the Monitoring Technological Developments Unit and Chief Technology officer at Future Center for Advanced Research and Studies, UAE. Dr Khalifa is a PhD holder from Cairo University and has published three books: Social Media Warfare (2015), Cyber Power: Managing State Affairs in the Era of Cyberspace (2017) and Post-Information Society: The Impact of Fourth Industrial Revolution on National Security (2019). He was awarded the ‘Best Book’ prize at the prestigious Cairo International Book Fair in 2018. Dr Khalifa may be reached at: Ehabakhalifa@gmail.com.  Frank Webster (2006), Theories of Information Society, 3rd edition, Taylor & Francis ltd., London, UK, pp. 8-9.  Ibid. p. 9.  Ibid. pp. 10-13.  Frank Webster (2014), Theories of the Information Society, 4th edition, revised, Routledge Publishing, London, UK, pp. 10-13.  Ibid, p. 11.  Ibid, p. 11.  Ibid, p. 11.  Ibid, p. 15.  ‘President Obama Launches Advanced Manufacturing Partnership,’ National Institute of Standards and Technology, 24 June 2011 [updated 27 November 2017], accessed 25 June 2020, available at <https://www.nist.gov/news-events/news/2011/06/president-obama-launches-advanced-manufacturing-partnership>  ‘The New High-Tech Strategy,’ Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), accessed 25 June 2020, available at <https://www.bmbf.de/en/the-new-high-tech-strategy-2322.html<  ‘Homes of The Future, Now Comfortable And Affordable To Heat,’ Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, accessed 20 June 2020, available at: <http://www.buildingfor2050.co.uk>  Leo Lewis (2017), ‘Internet of things tops Shinzo Abe’s list of priorities,’ Financial Times, 25 October 2017, accessed 26 June 2020, available at <https://www.ft.com/content/7e574d8e-96c9-11e7-8c5c-c8d8fa6961bb>  ‘Industry of the Future (2018),’ Le portail de l'Économie, des Finances, de l'Action et des Comptes publics, 18 May 2018, accessed 26 June 2020, available at <https://www.economie.gouv.fr/files/files/PDF/pk_industry-of-future.pdf>  ‘What is Made in China 2025 and Why Has it Made the World So Nervous?’ China Briefing, 28 December 2019 at: <https://www.china-briefing.com/news/made-in-china-2025-explained/>  Webster, p. 17.  Ibid, p. 17.  Ibid, p. 17.  Aaron Smith (2016), ‘Public Predictions for the Future of Workforce Automation,’ PEW Research Center, p. 2.  ‘Will Robots and AI Cause Mass Unemployment? Not Necessarily, But They Do Bring Other Threats,’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, New York, 13 September 2017, available at: <https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/policy/will-robots-and-ai-cause-mass-unemployment-not-necessarily-but-they-do-bring-other-threats.html>  Webster (2014), Ob Cit, pp. 19-20.