How can humans strive in the face of exponential and all-encompassing technological change?
The world is constantly changing, from advancements in technology to changes in the environment. Humans are subjected to changes mentally, physically and emotionally. This accelerated pace brings about happiness as well as fear and anxiety due to insecurity. Our world is entering a period of truly transformative changes that many of us will be surprised by the scale and pace of developments we simply hadn’t anticipated. For the foreseeable future, we should have a paradigm shift from the ‘wait and see’ mentality, because it is likely going to mean waiting to become irrelevant, or simply to be ignored, becoming obsolete and wither away. Thus, we need another strategy for defining and retaining what makes humans supreme in this quickly digitizing world.
What happens when technology knows more about us and things around us than we do?
What we fail to grasp is that even if we don’t do anything, we still give up data. Chemical composition of breath gives away our feelings. There is a dynamic mix of carbon-dioxide, isoprene, and acetone that changes when our heart beats faster or our muscles tense without any obvious changes in our behavior. Computers are now able to detect our slightest facial micro-expressions that it can differentiate between a real and fake smile. Computers can now analyze the temporal dynamics of our speech and language picked up by microphones and can predict the likelihood of the development of Psychosis, Dementia and even Diabetes as seen in the spectral coloration of our voice. We are producing more data than we can imagine, reports from the World Economic Forum highlights data generated daily from some platforms:
- 500 million tweets are sent
- 294 billion emails are sent
- 4 petabytes of data are created on Facebook
- 65 billion messages are sent on WhatsApp
- 5 billion searches are made
By 2025, it’s estimated to grow exponentially to 463 exabytes of data created daily globally. Data is the new oil that fuels technology and its rapid growth is a simple indication of the inevitable technological transcendence. Carly Fiorina pointed out that “the goal is to turn data into information, and information into insights”, this transformation can not be over-emphasized as the only hope to have a sustainable world.
Nothing changes if nothing changes, right?
In retrospect, human society has been driven primarily by one key enabling shift factor — from wood, stone, bronze, and iron, to steam, electricity, factory automation and the internet. The future, which has already begun, holds sets of science and technology-enabled mega shifts that will redraw not only commerce, culture, and society but also our biology and our ethnics. Any change like the one technology brings can be used for both good or bad, advocacy for effective regulations and transparency to engagement is crucial to building trust.
To cope with all of these changes, many people shut them out and ignore them. As a substitute for being a Luddite, purposive efforts could be made to be open-minded about the provisions of the future. Having a paradigm shift in the way we see technology dominance can lead to changing the world, as we harness its infinite potential and endless opportunities. We most time think that changing the world is tedious, boring, a dose of hard work and perhaps impossible but sometimes changing the world is all about seeing the world from a different perspective.
To further expanded on the importance of our openness to change, let me share a brief story with you. On August 3rd, 1915, ‘The Johnson&Carl’ newspaper published a notice to the general public in an attempt to disrupt the automobile industrial revolution.
The alarmists were not only disappointed but also were left behind. This proves the point that the future cannot be created based on paralyzing pessimism or blind optimism but preferably by purposive sheer efforts.
What do you think the future holds?
We humans have the habit of extrapolating the future from the present or even the past. The assumption is that whatever worked well for us up to now should, in some slightly improved shape or form, also serve us in the future. Yet the reality is that, because of the exponential technological changes, the future is unlikely to be an extension of our present. Looking at our previous story, following the recent changes in the car industry — during the past couple of years, we have gone from electric cars with a range of fewer than 50 miles to the latest Tesla Model S with over 348 miles on a single charge. We have gone from a handful of charging stations to the astonishing fact that New York already has more electric charging stations than gas stations. There is a breakthrough in the electric car industry as opposed to a decade ago which had tonnes of limitations to adopting electric vehicles(EV). The Model S with a charge time of 15 minutes can go 130 miles, soon we will have to charge once a month, and eventually maybe once a year — and then it will seem likely that very few people will be interested in a car with good old gas engines. The future does not just happen to us — it is created by us, every day and we will be held responsible for the decision we make at this very moment. Technology and humanity are converging, technology is exponential, but human remains linear in thinking. For humanity to prevail in the future we need to develop exponential imaginations.
When most people think about the future, they think of the “singularity”, the moment when computers primarily trump and then surpass human brains in computing power. Dr. Ray Kurzweil predicts that computers will surpass the processing power of a single human brain by 2025 and that a single computer may match the power of all human brains combined by 2050. The hurdles to impede the so-called Singularity is temporary. We should be open yet critical, scientific yet humanistic, adventurous and curious yet armed with precaution, and entrepreneurial yet collectively minded.
Can we consider our humanity?
“Technology Vs Humanity” is neither a celebration of the rapid onrushing technology nor a lament on the fall of civilization. The main goal of technology is to improve our lives. Like I pointed out previously that technology can be used for both good and evil as it is neutral until applied. The goal is to vet the “yes we can” attitude because that attitude can override even the most basic of human considerations. Take the example of “ectogenesis” — the idea of growing a baby outside of a woman’s body in an artificial womb. I believe it will be utterly dehumanizing for a baby to be born in such a process. Such a rationale behind such concepts is scary. Our scientific and technological breakthroughs should be gauged on humanity’s values.
We are at the 90/10 point right now: 90% of the amazing possibilities presented by technology could play out well for humanity, while 10% might be troublesome. While in the aurora of epic breakthroughs, greater focus should be placed on reducing that 10% because a flip or increase in the ratio will diminish human flourishing. Power comes with consequences — and right now we are busy enjoying the much-increased power of technology, but often fail to act responsibly when it comes to the unintended consequences and resulting fundamental changes in the fabric of society. Awareness of our lack of foresight and caution around the use and impact of technology will be beneficial to sustainable developments. The idea that responsibility for what technology makes possible is still largely considered an externality by those who create and sell it, is highly unsustainable for the future. We must look beyond profit and growth when it is about technology that can drastically alter human existence.
Being human is about things that we cannot — for the foreseeable future — compute, measure, algorithmically define, simulate or completely understand. What makes us humans is not mathematical or even just chemical or biological. It involves those things that are largely unnoticed, unsaid, subconscious, ephemeral and unobjectionable. These are the essence of humanity and we should not attempt to mend, fix, upgrade or even eradicate what makes us humans, rather we should design technology that knows, respect and protects these differences. Technology is simply a tool.
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