The two-day tech conference Next, which happened in the middle of the four-day Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, was an introduction to the new technologies that will shape of how we will live and work in the future. But what about the ethics behind these technologies?
It all comes down to the kind of legacy we are leaving and what we are creating. Exponential growth gives us the ability to impact billions of people in the following decades – how do we want to influence those people, and what do we want to contribute to their lives with?
One of the most thrilling and at the same time terrifying things about our modern world is that many of the sci-fi movies we watched as children are becoming reality already. It is visible enough in our daily life and in our interaction with technology. New incredible solutions are constantly being created. It is even more surreal to dive deep into all those things within just two days. Thinking about the complexity and details of each of the innovations within the Internet of Things, mobility, and digital transformation, one starts to wonder what are the red threads that bring together all the elements into a bigger system.
Three themes overarched the NEXT15 conference and they were not about technology but about what technology helps us to become – to be human, to be thoughtful, to be better.
The Internet of Things is going to happen. There is no return from the high-tech direction we have taken. The question is how do we utilize the power and efficiency that it gives us to make our world more livable and our lives better, more thoughtful, and humane.
We are mortal and impermanent and the things we create are representation of what makes us human and humane.
“What future are we building for ourselves and our children?”
We are here for just that much time that we can create something and leave it to the world. What that world will look like or what will it do with our legacy is for us to envision but not for us to control. Unless we build the capacity to see beyond the singular, curated visions of the future presented to us by media and visionaries in our own field, we can not have the understanding to create solutions that are truly impactful. We dream about our high-tech virtual and digital future but we are often able only to see one side of the possibilities of this future and it is worth asking How are the visions of our future shaped and formed? What is the impact of those visions have on our lives? What power do we have to change and influence them?
The term is “selective exposure” – we pay attention to information that confirms our beliefs and ignore things that don’t. We’re becoming a data producing workforce, finding new ways to make it easier to buy things, and creating shortcuts so we do not have to think about our choices too much.
We are likely to seek justifications for our actions and inactions that confirm the status quo, rather than accepting the change happening around us. We are aware of all sort of issues like global warming and poverty, but we choose to ignore them or minimize our action towards them because it is easier to justify what currently is happening than to think it through and make a change.
Our devices are getting smarter and we should be more thoughtful about the ways we want to use, direct, and develop them. Smart devices might mean thoughtless users or considerate investors. Where do we want to direct our attention to?
Shopping companies have turned into a “deliver before you order” service, suggesting what you need based on what you liked yesterday. This could lead to simplified life and ability to multitask, and it can also lead to mindless consumption of things suggested to us by smart systems. Anab asks:
“Do I really need a Chuck Norris t-shirt and a nose pencil sharpener just because Amazon suggested it?”
“You are only as much as you data karma will ever let you be.”
Smart devices are monitoring us and suggesting to us what we need. Googling an address might lead to suggestions for anti-depressants. Of course, people can always ultimately make decisions for themselves. The smart devices we create ultimately depend on the way the users use them and we can never know how will they change them. For example, a fork monitoring your healthy food habits might lead to you playing with your salad while you eat french fries with a normal fork.
The price of having connectivity and sensors are dropping to the marginal cost levels. Just because we can connect something, doesn’t mean we should connect it. Do we really need to invest in a sock-management device that helps us find and match our socks? Are we directing our time, energy, intelligence and money into things that are truly meaningful, or are we just building the next generation of disposable gadgets?
Being better is both about the intentions behind the things we build and the fact that we are getting better at the things we do – better, bigger, more masterful.
Yuri van Geest, author of the book Exponential Organisations and founding CEO of Singularity University Netherlands, talked about the way the way exponential growth disrupts businesses and the ways they reach customers. The relationship and impact are much more direct . There is instant feedback about how a business influences people. How do we imagine this shift will effect traditional organizational structures?
Customers are no longer anonymous buyers of products and services, but communities that business can interact with and understand. Yuri predicts this will change organizational growth strategies from profit-driven to purpose-driven. More and more, organizations will be expected to consider the well-being of all of their stakeholders and society at large, instead of only being responsible to shareholders. All this means that if we want to create better solutions, we need to create also better organizations.
Yuri van Geest introduced his theory of Massive Transformative Purpose, which echoes the words of Anab Jain:
“Technology is not the goal. Instead of hunting for the killer app, what would make IoT truly killer technology, is if we could find ethical, sustainable business models that will empower people, where we have the capacity to create tools that makes us understand the data we create and have the capacity to decide what we want to do with it.”
We’re heading towards a world where you can not forget, get lost – or be anonymous. This seems dystopic, but it’s a realistic part of our technology landscape. A technology’s true impact will only be determined by those who use it, not those who make it. And it will always be used in ways we don’t expect.
In 50-60 years the prediction is that we will have developed an artificial super intelligence that will be so complex that a human mind will not be able to understand it. At right about the same time, the prediction is that the global temperature will have climbed with 2 degrees, causing global floods, displacement, a decrease of global GDP of 0.7%, and a decrease of corn, rice and wheat supplies of up to 40%.
How will we live, survive, sustain, endure?
Here is the call for action that Anab made – to use our increasing power and reach as innovators, early adopters, and opinion leaders in the technological world:
- Advocate data ownership for consumers
- Mock-up alternative business models
- Sneak them into Powerpoints
- Make friends with climate scientists – and spread their knowledge
- Challenge politicians.
- Hack company roadmaps
- Gossip about potential
- Use creativity and innovation to leverage power