A glorious new year, and decade, to all!
As the Jewish festival of lights comes to an end, as Christians and non-Christians embrace Christmas, and as we all rush towards a brand new year, there is a huge challenge and opportunity waiting for every social, political, cultural, business and technological innovator.
Handle this challenge well, and we will all have a glorious new year and decade!
This opportunity is… as the third and fourth industrial revolutions coalesce, how we humanise the massive surge of new smart systems, smart machines and smart technologies that will hit us over the next 1-3-5-7-10-15 years.
This blog is the first of a series around the theme of humanising technology. In it, Neville Christie overviews his family of origin’s own story.
We can do it again
Neville does this to remind us all of just how much innovation and technical, social and cultural change we’ve all absorbed over the 70+ years, since the end of WW2 in 1945. And how much economic, social and cultural change and prosperity this has brought.
We can do it again!
But there is nothing inevitable about a new wave of prosperity, wellness and well-being ahead. In fact, quite the contrary. Left alone to their own devices – pun intended – this cascading plethora of new science, new knowledge, new technology, new smart machines, new smart grids, new smart cities, the Internet of Everything, the blockchain and cryptocurrencies, will not only tend towards being disruptive and destructive. But also towards being both ‘inhuman’ and inhumane.
It is us – as social, political, cultural and business innovators – who’ll make the difference… As we imagine, create and install the human faces, interfaces and ecologies around these algorithm-driven entities.
Who takes over the world?
Here’s the take-home message: We all have it in our minds, hands and wills to push aside all this nonsense about smart machines taking over the world. Providing, that is, we rise to the challenge and give all these new robots and smart gizmos human faces and interfaces and create new ecologies around them.
More fully human
Why? So that, as we dance with the AI robots, their children, and their aunts and uncles, we make it more possible for all us to be more fully human. Not less!
New introduction to the human race
Thirty-five years ago, one of my mentors, human development pioneer and professional Dr Jean Houston wrote in ‘The Possible Human,’ something that motivated me enormously then. And still does today, because it’s even truer now, than back then:
“With the present convergence of the findings of anthropology, cross-cultural studies, psychophysical research, and studies into the nature and function of the brain, we are beginning to have in hand a perspective on human possibility as profound as it is provocative. This perspective allows us to turn the corner on our humanity, exploring and experiencing the astonishing complexity and variety of the world of the possible human. It is a new introduction to the human race.”
Wowee! Let’s make it happen – collaboratively and co-operatively, together!
For entrepreneurs and innovators, opportunities typically come clothed as problems, waiting for us to re-address them.
And one of the hugest problem-opportunities over the 3-5-10-15 years, will be the biggest onslaught ever of automation, robots [“bots”], smart machines, smart systems the world has ever seen… which, among many other changes, will destroy, takeover, change, transform 50-70% of all service industry jobs…
So the opportunity for all innovations is to start acting now, so we ensure:
- these armies of machine ‘slaves’ have a human face and interface
- they serve humankind – not vice versa
- they serve all of humankind – not just a highly restrictive elite
- they help make life, love and work better for all, and
- we make sure many more new and productive jobs are created.
For a few relevant examples, see:
- 10 breakthrough technologies of 2017
- Emerging technologies
- 25 open ideas for breakthrough technologies
How many slaves do you own?
In the past, virtually every prosperous civilisation – including Babylon, China, Japan, Greece, Rome, the salt mines of the Sahara, the German tribes conquering the Slavs – hence the name ‘slaves’ , the Arabs, the Spaniards Portuguese and English, and North America – all were built on the backs of slaves, or serfs, and/or women doing most, or all, the menial, back-breaking tasks. Class distinctions thrived.
More recently, here in Australia, my own family of origin was ‘working class’.
As a kid in suburban Melbourne, born during WW 11, we had an outside ‘dunny’. We fed wood chips into a heater when we wanted a hot bath or shower. We kept our food cold with ice in an ice chest.
Godfrey Hirst, a migrant from Yorkshire, established a carpet manufacturing plant in Gelling in the 1880s. But these ended up in the posher homes of Toorak and Brighton. Not in ours. Our kitchen floor had linoleum [’lino’], and the rest of the house’s bare wooden floors had a few scattered rugs. We heated part of the house in winter with wooden fires. Bedrooms were freezing, but we kept warm with 5 or 6 rough woollen blankets – no doonas in sight back then,
Horses and hats
Dad ran his Dad’s wood, ice and chaff business, and during the war years when petrol was rationed, he did deliveries with a horse and dray.
The packaging industry did not exist. Fresh milk in bulk was delivered to our homes and ladled into our own containers. Bread was also home delivered, often still hot from the ovens. There were no jet planes or TV. No computers, internet, calculators, smart phones.
Large valve radio sets, which were found only in homes, were king. We spent many happy hours around the large set, letting our imagination rip as our set poured our words, sounds and music. But, of course, no visuals.
Trips to the big smoke
Trips by train to Melbourne city were a huge social adventure. We all dressed up in our Sunday best, with suit, tie, and polished shoes. Women wore a hat, gloves, flat-heeled shoes, and carried a handbag. Men wore suits and hats.
Back then, each suburb had its linear strip shops. No large-scale shopping centres, anywhere. During those war years, we did have some rationing of clothing, tea, sugar, butter, and meat. But fresh food markets – Prahran, South Melbourne and Queen Victoria market – thrived. And we shopped mainly at the corner store grocery where everything was hand-weighed and placed in brown-paper bags and then into our shopping baskets. No pre-packaged goods. No plastic. No plastic bags. Very little pollution.
Chinese restaurants, with green Laminex and chrome tables and chairs, were almost the only places where we could dine out. Or we took our kitchen pots and pans to the restaurant to fill with ‘take-away’.
Mum was the stay-at-home, ‘slave’. Sorry Mum! Her workday was typically 13 hours. She cooked in a wood-fired stove. After each meal, she hand-washed the dishes and we kids took turns drying them. She spent 1-2 whole days each week washing clothes in a wood-fired copper, using Reckitt’s blue to make sheets white, hand-turning a mangle to ring out excess water, and pegging clothes on the line in the backyard or dried them in front of the fire. No washing machines. No dryers. No dishwashers.
Cleaning the house was tedious and constant with no tools other than brushes and brooms. No vacuum cleaners. No cupboards full of cleaning products – mainly soap, vinegar, hot water and elbow grease.
Christmas holidays were the best of all – spent with four other families, including those of Mum’s two sisters, camping in tents on the foreshore of Site Ten Rosebud. Fantastic for us with days spent in swimmers… primus stoves, Tilley lamps, Chinese checkers and other board games at night. Hot fresh bread from the local bakery. Sausage sizzles. And the strongest and most wonderful sense of carefree community never captured at any other time.
Hotels closed at 6.00 when we had the infamous ‘6.00 swill’. Until ICI House was built in 1955, an ordnance forbad any building in Melbourne being higher than St Paul’s Cathedral at the corner of Elisabeth and Finders streets. That was132-feet – or 40.23 metres. So, there were no skyscrapers in my youth. Look at Melbourne now – with the most skyscrapers of any Australian city.
Flies were so ubiquitous, outdoor table dining was also ‘forbidden’.
Most Australians – who were mainly ‘white’ – went to church on Sundays. But the divisions and enmity between the Catholics and Protestants permeated nearly aspect of life – government versus private jobs, social functions, education systems, private clubs, the Masons…
Hard to imagine Heh! Just 70 years ago,
Wow! The pace of change
But change accelerated with the end of the war in 1945.
In just 2-3 generations, in Australia and other developed economies, we’ve seen technology and machines take over the slave role – sewerage systems, hot water systems, cars, washing machines and driers, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, gas and electric heating, jet planes, computers, smart phones, the list goes on and on.
And we’ve experienced the partial, but incomplete, role equalisation of women. And the blurring of the old social classes. And of course, faces in our streets are now of every hue. A massive change.
But we ain’t seen nothing yet!
But all this is just the beginning. The next 5-10-15 years we will see the biggest onslaught of automation, robots [“bots”], smart machines, smart systems we’ve ever seen. Among other changes, these new ‘slaves’ will destroy, takeover, change, transform 50-70% of all service industry jobs
Without doubt we live in a technological and algorithm age, and each day, increasingly more so.
It’s said that technology is morally and ethically neutral. Maybe so. But the design, application and distribution of technology is not. Like slaves of old, modern technology can benefit its users enormously – to the detriment of the slaves. But also like resentful and poor performing slaves, technology can also undermine human well-being.
Like 17% of Australians, I am an early adopter, and user, of much technology. But I call myself a ‘technological idiot’ because I have two strong disabilities in this technological age.
First, I was born with a total inability to read a technical manual or follow a set of technical instructions. Second, when someone shows or tells me what to do, I forget within 3 minutes. Each time I have a problem with my iPhone, tablet, Macpro, programmed music player, or security system, I have to ask for help again and again.
Using only 10%
As I result, I buy and get installed these lovely hi-tech gizmos. But at best, I only ever access and use 10% of all the things they can do. In this aspect I am not alone. Because much, maybe most, technology lacks a human face. And the human interface is seldom, easy
What proof? Select just about any of the new cryptocurrency web sites and try to get your identity validated before you buy some coin. Two or three days later, if you are lucky and extremely persistent, you may just well manage it.
Dehumanised and dehumanising
And despite how wonderful and world-changing new technology is, for many around the world, modern technology is often seen as de-humanised and dehumanising.
Huge increases in wealth and well-being
These new technologies, when added to those we possess already, have the potential to create enormous increases in wealth, wellness, well-being and life-style, and usher in much greater equity and social well-being across the globe.
A range of alternate future lies in our hands right now. Which one will we help create? More next year!
In the meantime, may you have the most glorious of festive seasons and start the New Year with renewed vitality, passion, purpose and renewed zest
See you in January, after a 4-week break.