Humanity and technology: happily ever after?

It was refreshing to take a step back and spend time hearing some alternative perspectives on an issue that we spend a great deal of time discussing in the H+K technology team – the relationship between technology and humans.

The inaugural One Question event, which took place in London last week, gathered speakers from across industries at the sharp end of the current wave of technology innovation and change, including healthcare, automotive, finance, law, advertising and media. Collectively, the ‘one question’ that the attendees sought to answer was "How do we successfully marry technology and humanity?"

From the very first stone tool used roughly 2.5 million years ago right up until to the present day, ‘technology’ has had a profound effect on the course of human history and touched all aspects of our lives including the way we work, eat, travel, communicate, study - and much more besides. This is especially true today where a perfect storm of ubiquitous internet connectivity, mobile and smartphone technology, machine learning, and artificial intelligence is rapidly changing our world.

The implied statement in the question posed at the event is that technology and humanity do not always successfully ‘marry’. We were reminded of this yesterday when Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk suggested that the prospect of mass job losses caused by automation could be solved by a universal basic income.

So what were viewpoints of the assembled speakers? Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland suggested that technology’s (and its proponents in Silicon Valley) tendency for constant optimisation and ever-greater efficiency is dehumanising and cuts out the frivolous and benign “bits in between”, claiming that humans “love inefficiency”. He argued that the role of technology should be about giving humans greater choice rather than making the choices for them. Among many other points of view from throughout the day, there were arguments for the feminisation of technology from XO’s Nancy Tilbury, while David Parkinson of Nissan called for tech to serve the greater purpose of human advancement. H+K’s Vikki Chowney also argued that, when it comes to storytelling, technology is the medium and not the message.

Perhaps most poignantly, Canadian author Michael Harris (whose book The End of Absence examines our lives in the context of constant connectivity) passionately argued that we should rediscover the reverie and absence that our pre-internet existence offered. Living in a “tech-drunk world”, Harris urged the audience to focus on what makes us human and that “the deliberate maintenance of our lived experiences…will allow our miraculous inventions to exist for us, instead of the reverse”.

At a time when the speed of technology innovation continues to speed up and our future relationship with it remains unclear, One Question was an important and timely opportunity for self-examination in the face of this change - looking at the innovation that we create, and the innovation that creates us.

By Neil Thomas, H+K Tech team

H+K Admin

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search