More Human than Trans-human

I recently attended the annual Think Tank hosted by TriCorps Technology. This year the subject was Machine Intelligence, or MI. Scott Klososky, the Founding Partner, does a magnificent job of getting a group of leaders to think deeply about future issues related to technology.

The heading of MI includes Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Physical Robotics, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Natural Language Processing (NLP), and other types of software and hardware automation. As emerging technology, it is hard to label the things that are happening in real time, and often, the application of these technologies blurs the lines between them. When several of these technologies are combined in a single system it is referred to as Cognitive Computing.

We discussed the economic impact, the social impact, the ethics and legal issues, and the relationship between these and the application to various industries. There was a lot of great dialog and idea sharing.

One of the exercises Scott had us do was to create our own superhero by selecting three superpowers from a list which included both technology and more traditional superpowers. I chose:

Cognitive Computing since it includes several of the other super powers (Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing, Robotic Process Automation, etc.) so I got lots of super powers rolled into one and it would make me an awesome augmented trans-human,

Time Manipulation because I would be able to move through time which would be very useful and would replace the need for predictive analysis. And let’s face it, it would be really cool, and

Teleportation because I hate the time it takes to get places and I could move stuff too. Again really useful but also very cool.

I named my superhero Chrono Volant (Flying Time). If you want to see my superhero’s logo and alter ego go here.

We are using many of these technologies at Kimray and I recently wrote about how we need to be careful as we implement them. However, I have also been thinking about what technology promises us. If you have a minute, go watch these ads from 1993. Amazingly accurate predictions. What was also being predicted was that technology would free us up. We would have to work less and would be able to enjoy life more and spend more of our time on things we wanted to do.

What concerns me about technology is the promise it makes that we will get better if we just go far enough. It is in this reaching for perfection that we may make our most disastrous choices. Scott Klososky predicts that by 2050 there will be enough technology augmentation available for humans that we will have to differentiate between human and trans-human. Kind of like the superpowers exercise from earlier. I don’t doubt that he is correct, and frankly I am fairly concerned that he is.

For reasons too complex for me to understand, some humans always choose to use the tools being discovered and developed for evil instead of for good. You cannot name a scientific or technology advancement that hasn’t been misused and/or weaponized. Future tech will be the same. When we discuss these misuses of technology, we often talk about using them to harm or control others. We rarely talk about how even “good” uses of the technology might be harming us.

As we have continued to advance technology, many of the things predicted in those 1993 ads have come true. I was talking to someone the other day who reminded me that the two-way wrist communicator of Dick Tracy fame was actually on my wrist in the form of an Apple watch. However, the most important prediction has not turned out to be true. Things aren’t better.

We don’t have more free time, not because the technology wouldn’t allow us to create it, but because greed and competition won’t allow us to slow down. People aren’t closer and more unified, not because technology hasn’t been able to close the gap of communications around the world, but because we use those communication tools to harm and divide. The world isn’t a safer place, not because technology couldn’t be used to limit exposure to harm, but because we choose to use technology to hurt rather than to help.

In the story of the Tower of Babel, people began to see themselves as unstoppable and their achievements as worthy of making a “name” for themselves. This narrative is matched in many cultures with comparative stories of pride and advancement going before a fall. In each version, what was to be achieved was not so much the problem, as the belief that the people achieving it were unstoppable and, in many ways, “god-like.” We stand poised once again on that same plain telling ourselves we should build a tower and reach the heavens. And maybe we can, but is that what we need?

What we need is more wisdom, not more technology. If we get the technology without wisdom, we will cause more harm than good.

Wisdom requires humility.

What happened at Babel was a lack of humility. Building or not, creating or not, advancing technology or not; these are not the problems. The problems arise when children are given tools that should only be used by adults. If our society continues to be foolish, we will continue to misuse the tools and get hurt in the process.

Technology will not help us with our most pressing problem: we are human.

I have said before that we cannot change the whole world, but we must change the world for the people we can. We start with ourselves and our community. Kimray is a place where we care more about humanity than technology, more about people than what place we are in, and more about wisdom than about winning.

I see a future where we use technology to create more opportunity and resources, not for ourselves, but to share with others. I see a future where we use technology to enable us to spend more time with people and less time with processes. I see a future where we use technology to give us less desire to be augmented in some way, and more opportunity to be truly human.