Empowerment Through Disruptive Technologies
The term “disruptive technology” may have a negative connotation. In reality, a disruptive technology is defined as “an innovation that significantly alters the practices and operations of industries or businesses.” This term was first introduced by Joseph M. Bower and Clayton M. Christensen in their article “Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave” published in Harvard Business Review way back in 1995.
Innovation that “disrupts” the way things are done are usually in the form of a groundbreaking product or service that creates a completely new industry which displaces an established industry.
The pace at which disruptive technologies has brought about change in our lives is made even more apparent with smart telephones becoming ubiquitous, improved wireless Internet connectivity and speed, multitude of social media applications, and increased importance of data science. With the advent of 5G, this pace is expected to accelerate further.
One example of disruptive technology which has become commonplace is online or mobile transactions. These days many people no longer queue at the bank or post office to do their banking or pay bills. Instead, smart phones with its multitude of apps have taken over rendering counter services almost obsolete.
Many banks are downsizing by closing down some branches and scaling down their workforce. The post office meanwhile has to reinvent itself in order for it to remain relevant in today’s online world.
While on the one hand, disruptive technologies are seen to be a threat to conventional work, these technologies have also created new types of work which require a different type of skills and knowledge. The emergence of these new types of work presents a new challenge for the society, industry and the government.
Disruptive technologies have impacted many sectors such as academia, communication, banking, data storage, manufacturing, medical, publishing, transportation and mass media. The impacts can be seen when these technologies and innovations have the potential to empower a section of the society which has thus far been marginalised.
For example, many smart gadgets and useful apps have been designed to help the blind, deaf and mute to communicate and carry out daily activities with much greater ease than before. These innovations actually allow them to become more independent, even allowing them to enter the workforce and contribute towards the development of the country.
Innovations that empower disabled people would disrupt the conventional notion of what is suitable work for them. Up till now, we often associate the blind, to take an example, with a certain type of work. We stereotype them to be only suitable for work such as telephone operator.
However, with disruptive technologies, not only can they do more complex tasks, but they would even have equal opportunities for a better career. Some of them have been known to be able to embark on professional careers such as engineers and professors in spite of their disabilities.
Islam greatly encourages technologies that bring about benefits to mankind. It is also equally important that the technological innovations do not bring about harm to anyone or anything including the environment in which we live in. The Quran has underlined the importance of utilising technology with great care and caution so as to avoid destruction.
One famous Quranic verse is from verse 41 of Surah al-Rum which is translated thus: “Mischief has appeared on the land and sea because of (the meed) that the hands of men have earned, that (God) may give them a taste of some of their deeds, in order that they may turn back (from evil).”
For as long as the technological innovation assists in strengthening the relationship between man and man while protecting the environment without destroying it (thus, having a healthy man and environment relationship), then the technology–albeit bringing about “disruption” to what has been routine–can be deemed to be beneficial.
What is even more important is to ensure that these technological innovations do not distance a believer from God, ensuring that the relationship between man and God remains strong. It must be noted that technology is the tool of civilisation, and therefore it is critical that technology is utilised in uplifting the quality of life for all.
We note the many potentials that technological innovations have in empowering the disabled for example, and these must be greatly encouraged. We would want the disabled to be empowered so that they too can contribute towards development. Empowering those who otherwise would not be able to contribute by making use of disruptive technologies would be a welcomed disruption to the greater good of the nation.
Whether we are prepared or not, we will be facing a barrage of technological innovations that will disrupt the way in which we live our lives. Many of these innovations no doubt will bring about benefits, but there are also potential threats that await when these innovations are in place.
It is imperative for us to be able to appreciate that technologies are important in spurring a nation’s development while at the same time, be able to ensure that negative impacts from technologies are at least minimised, if not avoided altogether.
This is why the Institute of Islamic Understanding of Malaysia (IKIM) will be deliberating on “Islam and Disruptive Technologies” on 22 October 2019 in order to objectively identify the potential benefits while identifying the risks brought about by technological innovations, as well as providing the Islamic input in tackling disruptive technologies.