The unabated exponential progression of science and technology has driven a staggering pace of innovation. The building blocks are mostly there, allowing creative minds to combine them in ways that attack the world’s most difficult challenges.
Additional forces have emerged to position the next two decades as a period that is purpose-focused and transformative. Innovation itself is no longer the sole purview of business, universities, government, and military, as our connected world provides an ideation and innovation engine never seen before. Peter Diamandis in his book on Abundance describes another phenomenon, namely the Techno-Philanthropist. Focused globally, these wealthy individuals are changing the traditional rules of philanthropy, using their wealth to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. In the above mentioned book, Mr. Diamandis focuses on an abundant world that drives a future that is better than people think. Let’s view this perspective as the first force driving our future.
If abundance is the first force, than a second force is the emerging concern that unintended consequences are lurking, and humanity itself is at risk. Futurist Gerd Leonhard explores these concerns in his newly released book titled Technology versus Humanity. The path forward represents a delicate balance between the socially constructive benefits of innovation, and the unintended consequences driven by technology that has no ethics, and an innovation engine that has no governance. Mr. Leonhard does a masterful job of describing the forces that could negatively affect our well-being. He views this topic through the lens of human happiness, and explores the role of technology in enhancing or detracting from it. As I contemplated the point of view advanced by each author, I developed a visual (above) that captures these opposing forces and underscores the need for balance and ethics. An interesting note: you could place several of these items of well-being on either side of the visual. For example, increased longevity has a positive impact on our well-being – but it also has unintended consequences.
With regard to digital ethics, Gerd Leonhard proposes the creation of a Global Digital Ethics Council (GDEC), which in his words, would be tasked with defining the ground rules and universal values of such a dramatically different, fully digitized society. In doing so, Gerd envisions a push towards agreements on the limits and independent monitoring of both the scope and progress of AI, genome editing, and other exponential technologies. These digital ethics would be open enough to not impede progress or hamper innovation, yet strong enough to protect our humanness. The GDEC Gerd envisions would include well-informed and deep-thinking individuals from civil society, academia, government, business, and technology, as well as independent thinkers, writers, artists, and thought leaders.
This dialog must begin, as much is at risk. We must realize the socially constructive benefits of exponential technology, while mitigating the risk of unintended consequences. I hope this visual helps in some small way in positioning the opposing forces and underscoring the need for balance. I recommend these books as a way to explore these opposing forces of innovation.