We often talk about how mankind is the ultimate being on earth. That we are the smartest, most resourceful and the most ingenuitive.
Why then, are we slowly losing control of our world to technology that we created to serve us? Or did we? To paraphrase a short scene from Roddy Doyle’s wonderful book/film The Snapper: there was a young boy sticking his finger into an electrical wall socket as his mother looked on. She screamed at him and told him to stop, asking why he stuck his finger into the power outlet. The boy simply replied “because it fitted”. This pretty much sums up our approach to technology. We produce technology because we can. Not because we always know what to do with it.
I like to compare our fascination with technology to Stone Age man’s fascination with fire – the nascent technology of its day. First, man was afraid of fire. Then, he could see some benefits (scaring away sabre-toothed tigers and cooking mammoth sausages), but he didn’t know how to control it.
The tribes that learned to conquer and master this new technology overtook those that did not. And mastery is the key here. We have not yet mastered the technology that we are constantly developing. We develop it because we can, not because we should or because it is beneficial in anyway for humanity.
Technology, like fire, can burn you and destroy your life. So the question is: shouldn’t we really take the time to master the technology we develop before we end up burning down the house? Is the technology taking us in the right direction? Whom does it benefit? Humankind, the individual, or a corporation?
We live in a world where technology is augmenting almost every aspect of our lives and enabling us to enhance our virtual presence using code. Empathy, freedom, wellbeing, intelligence, education, governance, creativity, economics, and politics are the primary benefactors of the exponential growth and impact of technology.
For the first time in the history of humankind, natural evolution has reached the zenith of its potential. There is no place to go from a biological point of view. Yes, we might become a little faster and jump a bit higher, but we have reached a point where our organic structure cannot evolve anymore. Even with genetic modifications – sooner or later – we will hit the limit of our evolutionary potential.
We live in a world where technology is observing us more than we are observing it, and it is reality, the information doesn’t exist behind the screen anymore – we are the information. Every aspect of our existence is being quantified, stored, and monetized. This has already fundamentally changed the narratives of work, travel, mobility, and more. The App economy improves the way we book a hotel, order taxi, pay for services, work remotely etc.
I don’t think we should put any effort into preparing for a digital age, as we are already living in one. My main concern is that we keep driving our economic models based on buzzwords that force our resources to focus on technology rather than on the development of humankind, individuals and strategic thinking.
When we keep building “smart” things (smart phones, smart cities, smart cars) the word smart stands for ‘technology’. We keep surrounding ourselves with technology and forgetting that our entire infrastructure, that may be cities, legal, educational, political and economic models can be traced all the way back to the Roman Empire. Moving forward, we need to rethink the fundamental building blocks of societal development and evolution or we are simply building a house of cards.
I would start by asking the question, what does it mean to be human in a world where technology determines almost every aspect of our existence? I think we have already passed the point of no return where we can “live” without technology, and as such we should find way to partner with it to define the next steps of human evolution. We need better-educated leaders and politicians. We need a better understanding of policymaking.
We can easily list the skills that today’s children will need to successfully navigate the future:
- Critical thinking
- Analytical thinking
- The ability to solve complex problems
- Emotion and passion
But why is that list different from the skills we have always needed to excel in life and rise to the apex of our own potential? The truth is it’s not!
We do, however, need a set of new ideas for these skills:
- We can’t use code the same way we use bricks
- We need to move from managing-for-profit, to managing-for-impact
- Experience should be measured by the quality of choices and not by the number of its functions
- Don’t confuse symptoms with the appearance and root cause
- Assets need to build up into properties and capital to deliver value to society
- Think of technology as a legal system. The legal system was designed to be used (and sometimes abused) by lawyers – entrepreneurs use technology – technology is never the end goal, but simply a path.
Only by bringing the best minds together and providing space for them to develop these potential future narratives, can we stress-test them and improve them through an iterative process. This is something that I am extremely passionate about.
In the end it is about defining the world you wish to live in, modelling it, testing it and improving it. If we continue to use the past as the gateway to the future we will not move very far. This is the challenge I put to every leader I speak to. We can make the world a better place, if we want to.