Electronic devices are often replaced with the latest version at an alarmingly fast pace. These constant upgrades add to e-waste, significantly impacting the environment and reducing natural resources while consumer demand is being met. Tens of millions of tons of such materials are discarded every year worldwide. Electronic products are full of hazardous substances such as toxic materials and heavy metals that can threaten humans, plants, animals. One method of disposal often employed by developed states is to offload e-waste to low-income countries for resale or demolition. This offloading places developing nations at greater risk of exposure to toxic chemicals and materials. Meanwhile the high rate of device upgrades in developed countries has significant consequences for both people and the environment. What impact does planned disposal have on the amount of e-waste? What incentives can be developed to promote software upgrades for existing devices? As the appetite for ever-increasing technological devices continues, what are the implications for how we dispose of these devices? How can more effective and ethical responses to recycling and disposal policies be encouraged to protect human life and the global environment in the future?
Technologically, virtual reality is widespread and expanding its application through augmented, enhanced, mixed, and other forms of digital realities. The options and opportunities for its application appear boundless through the integration of 3-D images, gaming, computer-assisted instruction, equipment simulators, and entertainment platforms. The imposition of holographic images over real-world views have applications ranging from education, archaeology, and engineering, to sports training, video games, and artistic expression. The utilization of augmented reality technology is already making significant changes to the manufacturing industry. What other industries will it revolutionize? The inclusion of haptic, visual, and auditory overlays can be both constructive and destructive to users. New opportunities are provided to individuals with disabilities. New treatments are made available to the ill. How will enhanced reality impact human interactions? Digital reality is constantly evolving with advantages for all fields. How will we deal with the fiscal, educational, and psycho-social issues that might arise?
Machines were developed to assist with dangerous and difficult jobs. At present, unskilled human labor is being replaced with robotics more quickly than at any time in history. Advancements of such machines move technology closer and closer to lights-out manufacturing. In countries with robust national safety nets, these changes are viewed as inevitable, and they have begun to explore new human employment concepts. Robotic workers often provide for human safety as in the case of bomb disposal. Laborers are fearful of how these looming employment changes and uncertain of how their work life will proceed. A robotic workforce’s effects go beyond manufacturing as university-trained individuals such as lawyers and accountants are already being impacted by automation. What will the human workforce of the future look like? Will specialized training and education be needed for a combined human and robotic workforce? What will our future work force look like? How will our future economy be impacted by robotics in the workforce?
Consumerism has promoted a ‘throw-away’ society – one in which people do not keep things for very long, preferring single-use and disposable items. This societal approach leads to overconsumption of short term items instead of durable goods that can be repaired. Widespread social influencing often encourages people to focus on the consumption, ownership, and display of material possessions to mark an individual’s social status, identity, and standing. This impacts the environment, lifestyles, and distribution of wealth. Consumerism stretches the world’s limited natural resources. Production is dictated by consumer demand, and businesses try to provide consumers with a growing number of options, including branded goods, to stay afloat. Many products are often fads or are adapted and modified regularly to entice consumers to buy the upgrades despite already having durable ones. Constant upgrades are sought in an effort to achieve greater social standing through material possession instead of meaningful acts. How can societies value all of their members while allowing for – and encouraging – individual perspectives and desires? What are the appropriate balances between local values and global aspirations for consumers?