By Gerd Leonhard, Future-Thinker and Humanist, Zürich, Switzerland, November 7, 2016
IS IT Time to become exponentially human?
Machines can increasingly mimic the human brain and may indeed soon outpace it in certain respects such as calculations per second or storage capacity. Yet I believe that for the foreseeable future no mechanical apparatus, algorithm or bot can have an original thought, or create a meaningful work of art, or invent a new field of science, or show authentic empathy and compassion. Yes, machines will be increasingly good at amazing simulations but (hopefully) never at real existence – but maybe the lure of magical and ultra-convenient simulations is precisely why we might get hooked on them?
Yet is it the sense of being, of existence, of Dasein (as many German philosophers have put it) that is missing entirely within machines, computers and algorithms, no matter how fast and powerful they may become.
Re-disocover human potential, further human flourishing!
Here is my bottom line: as intelligent machines increasingly remove routines from our lives – and will soon automate and virtualize many more complex tasks, as well – humanity in the twenty-first century is called upon to re-discover and express its full potential. This will include the mind-body connectedness that has been getting lost since the Industrial Revolution, along with more holistic approaches towards a future that will actually support human flourishing (see my chapter about happiness and eudaemonia in my new book ‘Technology vs. Humanity’). Ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy may provide some clues to an educated humanity that pursues the arts in synchronicity with commercial and technical excellence.
Traditional education is becoming obsolescent
The great irony is that official education in most countries – with a strong focus on STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and an unfortunately all too common disparagement of liberal arts – is actually obsolescent. The liberal arts, so-called because they once belonged to the free, will become the platform for exponential thinking in the twenty-first century – also organizationally, where individual creativity has already overtaken traditional business processes and ROI-obsession as the primary guarantor of survival and success.
Until just a few years ago, humanness and creativity in a world of commodity products (and services) was actually a risk. But in a world of global synchronicity with infinite variety and inevitable abundance (see music, films, travel, and very soon, banking and energy), creativity becomes a Must. As the arts have withered and started to mimic science, the rich irony of our new century is that organizations need to learn to think and act like artists in order to survive.
To an artist, chaos is natural. Steve Jobs, the most iconic entrepreneur of the new era, was essentially an artist in a Chief Executive’s disguise. As Apple burst the boundaries of computing to become a universal ecosystem, humans are now called upon to leave behind their passive, rote and scripted teaching-by-example and best-practices. Organizational leadership, by turn, will evolve into the art of learning by inquiry – a new Renaissance of discovery.
We need to become ever more (‘exponentially’) human to counter-balance exponential technological progress.
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Some related videos from my recent speaking engagements