With all of this technology surrounding us, defining how we live and interact with the world around us, humanity needs to take a step back and ask if we as a human race are adopting technological mannerisms in our lifestyle or if machines are increasingly taking on human elements.
This is a valid question, particularly when we look at the way we talk with each other. In the past, words such as LOL, ROFL and OOTD were just a jumble of letters placed beside each other. These days, these letters are acronyms that define us as much as anything else.
However, we are far from completely adopting technological mannerisms; there is still that element in all of us that hangs onto its humanity. In the meantime, there is a significant drive to humanise technology so that it can benefit mankind in the best possible way.
A tool of social justice
A recent article on opendemocracy.net shows how these efforts are progressing. Can we use the internet to enhance deep human connection and support the emergence of thriving communities in which everyone’s needs are met and people’s lives are filled with joy and meaning?
That’s a very challenging question, and the answer isn’t just about technology, at least not in the conventional sense of that word. It’s not about any of the emerging trends that are already impacting our societies like bitcoin, drones, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, hyperloops or any of the things that the Singularity University thinks will converge.
The article adds that it’s not just a matter of finding new technologies either; even if they are more user-centric or built on self-sovereign digital identities in place of corporate ownership and control. The solutions to promulgate this can’t be driven by a government need to find a military advantage—which is the case for a vast range of everyday innovations today—as Manuel DeLanda outlines in his book, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines.
Our work on technical technologies won’t generate broad human gains unless we invest an equal amount of time, energy and resources in the development of social and emotional technologies that drive how our whole society is organised and how we work together. We are actually on the cusp of having the tools, understanding and infrastructure to make that happen, without all our ideas and organising being intermediated by giant corporations. But what does that mean in practice?
This is particularly important if we are going to use technology as a tool for social justice. It clearly has the potential to reach the largest possible audience and touch on issues that are too sensitive to debate in an open forum.
The social campaigner
The author of the article raises some interesting issues and does provide some definite food for thought.
The article adds that social technologies are the tools we use to interact with each other in groups of any size, from the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) and other neighbourhood organisations to national governments and international bodies. They are increasingly important in the shift that is taking place from an exclusive reliance on representative political processes and institutions to an expanded range of deeper and more deliberative forms of democracy. The social technology of voting for representatives was a breakthrough 300 years ago, but these systems are breaking down and are not serving us well enough today.
Emotional technologies are the tools we use to interact with ourselves internally and in our relationships with other people. They are more critical than ever because the mental health of everyone is now a key concern—since one lone individual can inflict enormous harm through high-tech weapons or by hacking into our core infrastructures. Such technologies are well known and include mediation and meditation practices of different kinds, yoga and mindfulness, Nonviolent Communication, Co-Counseling, and 12 Step processes like Alcoholics Anonymous.
The article adds that social technologies work a lot better if people have a range of these emotional tools and practices to draw on because they are better able to manage themselves and interact with others. We want security and have been putting billions of dollars into the security-surveillance-industrial complex post 9/11, but what about the deeper issue of how we connect to each other and solve problems together? What are we doing to address everyone’s mental and emotional well-being to reduce alienation and disconnection?
How do you get people on vastly different sides of controversial issues to collaborate to solve what seem to be intractable problems? How do you structure inclusive deliberations that involve whole communities and build up social capital and connection? Individuals like Miki Kashtan, Tom Atlee and Sharif Abdulah and groups like the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation have been working on these questions for many years but deserve much more investment and support. Without further innovations in these social and emotional technologies, no ‘technical’ technologies will save us.
The age-old quest
The quest to humanise technology is an age-old one that has deep roots in how we have progressed as a species.
A recent article on forbes.com pointed out that the term Anthropomorphism was originally coined by the Greek philosopher Xenophanes, back when he was studying the similarity of features between the various races of humans and their respective gods. Ever since time unknown, mankind has been known to assign human personalities to nonhuman objects. Whether it is the eight-year-old girl talking to her endeared doll or the fully-grown adult occasionally indulging in a conversation or two with his pet dog, we have all anthropomorphized at some point or another in our lives. It is not at all unusual, therefore, that we humans do the exact same thing when it comes to the way we treat our technology.
The article adds that we forego the humanity entirely and concentrate instead on creating technology as its own entity. According to an article written for the New York Times, a bot is a bot. It doesn’t need to be old or young. It doesn’t need to be male or female. In fact, it doesn’t need to possess any human characteristics whatsoever in order to be efficient at what it does.
While the concept may certainly be an interesting one, it might just be asking us to violate one of the age-old characters that have been hardwired into our very psyche. The need to relate to something in order to be able to trust it.