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Becoming More Human In A Tech-Driven World

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There’s an announcement in Hong Kong’s railway stations (MTR) warning people to pay attention and not to just look down at their cellphones; despite being repeated on loop, it seems to have little effect on the thousands of commuters who shuffle through the corridors, heads bowed, engaging only with their screens. It’s a phenomenon that’s become known as “distracted walking”, or in Cantonese ‘dai tau juk’ (head down tribe) and they’re a boom to chiropractors because they’ll likely develop a medical condition known as “forward head syndrome”.

It’s this kind of response to technology that is increasing isolation and disconnect among humans.

“Every time a brand launches a new mobile device, new connectivity, new connection [it’s a] a new con, because it’s not a connection. What it’s really doing is disconnecting us,” says Brad Shorkend, author, agitator and public speaker. “We live in an illusion of connection, but this is artificial intelligence, this is algorithmically driven information [that is being fed to us and] we are disconnecting because we are nose down in our phones.”

Brad Shorkend speaking at Ads24’s 2019 Food for Thought

Speaking at Ads24’s recent Food for Thought – Shorkend explored the theme of humans vs robots from a human perspective, saying that while AI and technology are incredible tools, they are necessitating a shift in how humans conduct themselves.

“While the world is changing and technology is advancing, we are not. There is so much shift and the conversation is not of humans not needing to apply for work, it’s one of humans needing to apply themselves differently. We’ve got to learn new things; we’ve got to learn to understand each other differently. At the same time, we also need to understand technology,” says Shorkend.

Don’t forget who’s in control

We’ve heard lots of conversations around the first- second- third- fourth-industrial revolutions, Shorkend says, but we are now moving quietly into the fifth-industrial revolution ‒ a society where humans and machines work side-by-side.

“[We need to decide] how much are we going to let ourselves become like machines and machines become more like ourselves? That’s the big question.”

Importantly, we need to acknowledge that it is “us programming them. Remember this, we programme the machines, we dictate what we put in there ‒ our toxicity, our beauty … is what goes into that machine.”

For example, Amazon, at one point, implemented a digital recruitment process and was surprised to find that only men were making it through for interviews, despite it being a non-gender specific role. On investigation they realised that a man had programmed the computer and probably inadvertently programmed his own biases into the process.

In another example, when Tessler first began to experiment with manufacturing autonomous vehicles, they programmed the computer so that in the event of a collision the car should ensure the driver’s survival. The result was that the car did as instructed and ‘saved’ the driver, but at the expense of passengers and pedestrians.

AI, believes Shorkend, can be viewed in two ways. Instead of artificial intelligence we can think of it as intelligent assistance, or it can equate it to artificial idiocy.  

“We talk about technology as a tool, and it is a tool … just a tool. But a fool with a tool is still a fool,” he says.

Technology and humans in the work place

The pace of the working world has become a lot faster as a result of technology and it means we are going about work in a very different way. We are still human and the critical thing is to be aware of the experiences we are creating for ourselves.

“The most fundamental basic human need, neuroscience is showing us, is more than anything else that [our health and wellness] in terms of neurological disorder, cancer and muscular disorders is being caused ‒ more than by food and more than by smoking ‒ by chronic stress caused at work.”

The cause is a feeling of lack of belonging, lack of trust and lack of social safety in the work place with the result that the Deloitte Global Capital Trends Survey for 2019 indicated that 84% of people surveyed fed back that the experience they are having at work was is in their top three concerns; 84% said experience at work needs to change.

“…More and more organisations, particularly as we move towards Society 5.0, are realising that it’s not sustainable. That the only way to stay financially relevant, in a fast-changing world, is by accessing people at a higher level of contribution.

“The big question you need to be asking is: ‘Are the people that you lead, or work with, being switched on and grown or switched off and depleted?’ Switched on and grown means they are being inspired and motivated intellectually accessed for higher levels of contribution.”

About Food for Thought

Now in its third year Food for Thought was initiated as a way for leaders in the media industry to get together for an experiential morning of exploration around the factors changing pace and nature of the working world.

“We are all in the same boat at the end of the day, being swayed by the tides of technology, politics and economy,” says Marise van der Lith, Brand Manager for Ads24. “Food for Thought aims to get influential members of the industry into the same room, to think, debate and learn about progressive and positive ways forward.”

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