Are ready to Abdicate Your Humanity? If not, read Technology vs. Humanity
There are many stages in our love affair with technology, starting with the first casual flirtation with mobile phones, email or file-sharing. How cute these now seem as the icons of Big Tech casually contemplate our impending augmentation and bio-technological optimization (watch this, visit this site, or read more about what I call technological reductionism)
Back just a few years ago, when we were busy consuming these magic digital delicacies, drinking from the firehose of likes and follows, were we really just being shepherded towards our own imminent retirement as an independent ‘natural’ species? As computers and objects all around us get incrementally more intelligent (as IBM likes to say, cognitive) – and as that process becomes exponential (in other words not just continuous but explosive) are we in fact devolving into app-tapping apes and expensive wetware in constant need of upgrading? Will we soon leave our thinking to intelligent digital assistants, whether they reside in our mobile device or sit on the kitchen counter (‘Google Home’ or ‘Amazon Echo’)?
When is the last time you drove anywhere without the aid of your GPS or Google Maps or Waze? Would you consider the time spent navigating by your own wits a waste of consciousness – or the vital uptake necessary to remain sapient as in Homo Sapiens? In the case of trip navigation, you’d probably be OK with leaving that task to a smart if hopefully benign AI, but when it’s about making decisions on hiring or firing people in your company maybe you’d agree that this is not an optimal occasion for purely algorithmic decision making. So where will we draw the line?
Some of us might be increasingly willing to find our future mate with the help of technology, but what happens when technology actually gets in the way of our subsequent relationship, as smartphones literally distracting our facetime? Will we ultimately prefer relationships with screens and machines over those with other humans, because it’s so infinitely more convenient? Will we enjoy AR & VR simulations so much that reality becomes a let-down? Will software start cheating the world (not just merely ‘eating’ it as Marc Andreessen famously said in 2011)? With apps and (soon) intelligent digital assistants (IDAs) for practically everything, what would be the point in maintaining numeracy, literacy, bilingualism, or even hand-writing and driving skills?
In my new manifesto, Technology vs. Humanity, I aim to articulate the thousand unvoiced doubts and misgivings humanity is feeling as we notice the physical environment around us has become ever more knowing, if not yet know-all.
How far away is technology from becoming a know-all? It already knows people that bought this book also bought these ones, and that people like you usually like this activity or that product, or that these people like these kinds of songs during that time of day. Is Big Tech surveying, tracking and remembering us in ways that will soon make us feel like a mere lifestyle, a jumble of hormones pretending to be an individual?
My book parses the sequence as one from Automation to Abdication to – potentially – Abasement. When cyborg Man Friday accumulates enough human code to mimic Robinson Crusoe, who will rule our desert island? Without taking a reductionist line or going neo-luddite, I try to outline the urgent need for a code of Digital Ethics and, finally, some accountability by the Alphabets, the Apples, the Alibabas and all the other big beasts of the new Jurassic digisphere. Whether this even remains an option – when do the Brain Computer Interfaces become regulation issue, Elon? – is why I believe Technology vs. Humanity is the biggest conversation on the planet, today.
Technology vs Humanity by Gerd Leonhard: buy directly from my publisher, single or bulk with substantial discounts, or buy it via Amazon. Consume it as a physical book or virtual experience before the brain you’re using is annexed by a publicly-traded ecosystem.
Disclosure: I do speaking engagements for many companies mentioned in this post, including IBM, MSFT, and Google
A world-travelling futurist with a unique background in technology as well as in Humanities and the Arts, Gerd Leonhard gathers perspectives and insights from a plethora of cultures, industries and individuals. These rich ingredients make Technology vs Humanity far more than a one-sided monograph. As the Information Age recedes into a sepia-toned photograph album, we are already well into a new historical space where living an organic biological life as a human will become an option rather than a necessity.
Some related media and illustrations