The Digital Paradox: How Digitalization Beckons Human Development

Digital Paradox
Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash

The Digital Paradox

A group of teens is huddled behind their smartphones instead of engaging with one another. An emotional email rant is sent to a colleague instead of a face-to-face discussion. The more technology ostensibly appears to disconnect us from one other the more it beckons us to confront our own humanity.  This is the digital paradox. I briefly identify current digital buzzwords and attribute to each the respective human developmental challenge we face.

Emerging Tech Buzzword   Respective Human Equivalent
Augmented Reality (AR) = Individual Perception
Mixed Reality (MR) = Diversity of Perceptions
Blockchain = Trust / Transparency
Big Data = Collective Consciousness
Artificial Intelligence (AI) = Emotional Intelligence (Sensing)
Internet of Things (IoT) = The Interconnectedness of All Living Things (IoLT)
Bots and Algorithms = Ethical Intention / Posterity

Human Augmented Reality Makes Us Unique

Augmented Reality is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. We augment reality daily using our own biological computer–the brain–to enhance sensory-based experiences based upon our programmed perceptions. Are we at risk of losing our sense of self-perception in a predetermined digitally enhanced augmented reality? What impact does sharing the same augmented sensory experience have on our human development? This leads us to the next emerging technology and its human-related counterpart.

Managing Mixed Reality Requires Leadership

Digital mixed reality refers to any real-time combination between reality, virtual reality, and augmented reality.  In human terms, mixed reality is the intricate interplay of “augmented realities” of over 7.5 billion people. Globalization is the unstoppable convergence of human beings. Nevertheless, the rise of nationalism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance shows a struggle to accept this natural process. Why? Managing diversity requires leaders who can hold the space for multiple mixed realities. Managing conformity only requires dictators. Leading diversity is achieved on a more horizontal plane by fostering knowledge sharing to promote common human interests. Dictating uniformity is achieved on a more vertical axis by restricting information sharing to satisfy self-interest based on hierarchy. What does this struggle to integrate mixed realities say about the quality and intention of current global leadership? This leads us to the next emerging technology.

Blockchain is About Trust and Transparency

According to a World Economic Forum report, corruption costs the global economy $3.6 Billion each year.  Blockchain in its basic form is an electronic ledger (chain) of individual data transactions (blocks). In comparison to current financial transaction methods, Blockchain is more secure and unalterable, fostering trust and transparency in a VUCA world. Data is the new oil in the digital era. The importance of trust and transparency will increase as the importance and scope of information expand. The era of “Fake News” is hardly a surprise as financial scandals surface. To remain in power, those who profit from deceit slander and discredit the sources revealing the deception. Blockchain mitigates this issue by allowing one to transparently “follow the money” and brings us to the next tech buzzwords.

Big Data & Artifical Intelligence = Collective Consciousness & Emotional Intelligence

In an emerging digital age tech gurus are advising us to focus more on what humans do best. Computers are best at collecting raw data (Big Data) and using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyze this surplus of data as desired. This relationship between Big Data and AI humanly translates to our collective consciousness and emotional intelligence respectively. Trust and transparency awaken our collective conscious and stimulate our emotional intelligence. Like computers, humans gather exorbitant amounts of data through augmented and mixed human realities. Being in tune with our emotional state and those of others leads us to be more aware and compassionate. This is being human. Collective consciousness and emotional intelligence make us whole and connected with nature. This is what computers cannot do and leads us to the next tech wonder.

The Internet of Things (IoT) Represents the Interconnectedness of Living Things (IoLT)

The Internet of things (IoT) is a system of interconnected computing sensors able to transfer data over an integrated network. As our collective consciousness grows and emotional intelligence develops, we will better understand the interconnectedness of all living things (IoLT). Please click the subtitle to read more about how IoT reflects the intricate food web and symbiotic relationships naturally keeping life on Earth in a delicate balance. Somehow this chain of digital events is starting to sound like the famous British nursery rhyme, This is the House that Jack Built! This children’s story is not about Jack’s house per se. Rather it is about the stories of people and animals in his house. The same is true of digitalization. Technology ultimately comes full circle back to our human development and its impact on the 8.7 million species inhabiting Earth. And so we have to be clear about our intention. Let’s look at the next two tech buzzwords for some insights.

The Use of Bots and Algorithms Show Intention

Technology is created by humans. We determine its use and intention. Bots are programs created to automate repetitive tasks. There are Good Bots and Bad Bots.  Good bots can improve your website’s SEO and bad bots can steal content from your website. An algorithm is a set of steps to accomplish a task. Algorithms, like bots, are not free of corruptive influence and human prejudices. Algorithm bias already exists. Like all technology, bots and algorithms are a means to an end. The collective use of bots and algorithms shows our overall human intention and future direction. Digitalization is a reflection of our human development. Is it to serve the interests of the few or benefit the common good of all? What is needed to ensure that posterity supersedes the lucrative lure of special interest to exploit advancements in digitalization?

The Digital Paradox Can Be Our Saving Grace

The digital paradox is technology enlightening humanity. This is not only the best outcome; it is achievable. The digital paradox casts a bright light onto what is needed for us to further develop as the top species responsible for this planet and all other species inhabiting it. Advancements in deep learning bring algorithms and computers closer to mimicking human thought and behavior. At this stage of our human development is the objective of making machines in the image of humans advisable? We routinely and sadly witness the enduring physical and emotional harm a group of people or even a single human being with malicious intent can have on a community. Imagine what devastation a global network of ill-intentioned algorithms could do? What is needed to minimize this risk?

The Digital Paradox Demands Ethical Dialog

We must proceed with mindful ethical oversight. Ethical dialog about technology and its use and intention require as much attention and resources as that which go into R&D itself. However, careful and serious attention is needed when assembling ethics committees. A recent Guardian article highlighted the risks of having biased and nondiverse members on ethics committees in charge of ensuring that algorithms are not biased and prejudiced. Lo and behold another paradox! Humans stand at the center of all technology. No matter which reality lens you use, the digital paradox becomes clearly evident the more digital processes mirror the likeness of their human creators. Even in a technologically advanced world, all roads still lead to Rome.

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, and Youth Specialist. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

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