Towards a more Sympathetic Future - Thoughts on the Humanisation of Society through Digital Technology #11 #cong16

By Damian Costello.

As a society our next big challenge is to humanise the next wave of technology, the digitisation of everything. As the next wave of technology will impact every facet of life, what we are actually challenged with is the humanisation of society itself.

Technology is like most things on this planet amoral, it does not decide if it's used for good or evil. Technology in the past has been used to protect and enrich the elite. In society today technology does a lot of evil, hides a lot of evil and rewards a lot of evil. But something very fundamental is happening in the world. We are about to enter a post-technological age and for me the prospects are brighter now than during any technological transformation in the past.

When I first read James Surowiecki's book "The Wisdom of Crowds" more than ten years ago I didn't get it. I was in a transition at that time from industrial designer to innovation professional. I believed in a more 'intelligent designer' theory of technological evolution than I do now. Filled with a sense of my own and my profession's invincibility, I thought crowd sourcing was what companies did when they didn't understand innovation and couldn't generate their own ideas. 

But now I think I get it a bit more. I am currently transfixed by the American Presidential Race 2016 and in particular with Donald Trump. As with Brexit and the election of a minority government in Ireland, people have a visceral, if not intellectual understanding that the system by which society organises itself is out of date. In the absence of a credible ‘good’ alternative, more and more are voting against the ‘bad’. 

This is the understandable dynamic that emerges at the start of any transformation. 

We have raised this infamous Generation Y to live in a new, fairer, more collaborative reality that does not yet exist - we need them to help us build it. We taught them to be cynical, vigilant, trusting, moralistic, collaborative, perfectionist, and demanding of instant results. We taught them that they were all special (everyone got a medal) and while some of us see this as a weakness, the very fact that we had the foresight as a society to allow the concept of winners to be undermined, in turn devalues the concept of losers and its related stigma. Released from the tyranny of ‘them and us’ thinking, subsequent generations are free to treat every opportunity on its own merits and volunteer the energy needed to make it work in a way we do not.

In the face of a generation built for a more egalitarian existence and a generation fed up of an authoritarian past, the seismic disruption caused by digital technology creates a unique opportunity to make society better. For the first time in history technology has the power and granularity to morph and self-organise to fit people's lives rather than have people forced into boxes defined by the limitations of previous forms of technology. 

Agriculture made people slaves to the seasons. The industrial revolution made people slaves to the clock. Globalisation (and smartphones) made people slaves to a 24/7 virtual world. Digital technology as evidenced by social media, big data and the internet of things will be capable of treating every individual as an individual. It will create work opportunities that match people's attitudes, moods and interests to satisfying tasks that get the very best out of them. The capabilities and scalability of today's social media platforms will soon grow up into ‘Social Occupation Platforms’ to coin a phrase. 

This potential for the humanisation of works is not yet a given, but if society moves from being organised as a command and control pyramid structure to a more self-organised, network model, more and more ordinary people will be empowered to define their own reality. Society will then have an opportunity to carve out a new narrative, one where a greater proportion of the population will enjoy justice, prosperity and self-fulfilment.

How it will all work and when it will happen is up to the wisdom of the crowds. My expectation is that the energy behind today’s protest votes will turn into a movement for the betterment of humanity. 

It has to work out that way doesn't it, because the Zombie Apocalypse alternative doesn't suit me at all.



© Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie