Technology vs The Human Factor

Several times over the past month I have been reminded that the pursuit of technology for its own sake can give rise to misguided innovation; so-called solutions that are divorced from real world problems cannot justify the effort or resources. It feels like we are entering a new phase of the post-industrial revolution era, where a lack of “the human touch” will render many new inventions as worthless, irrelevant or redundant.

Street scultpure, Nagoya. Photo © Rory Manchee (all rights reserved)

Street sculpture, Nagoya. Photo © Rory Manchee (all rights reserved)

In no particular order:

  • At the second Above All Human conference in Melbourne, there was a consistent theme: how do we make sure there is a real connection between human needs and bleeding edge technology?
  • A Slow School of Business excursion to an eco-friendly homestead in rural Victoria offered a practical lesson on how to create harmony between technology and nature, and still achieve a modern (but modest), highly personal and comfortable home.
  • The economic debate about whether technology is improving our standard of living (as reported in the latest CPA magazine), which also echoes a recent CEDA report on automation and the implications for job losses.
  • A Q&A with Shayne Elliott, the new CEO of ANZ Bank, which prompted the observation that big data analytics, process automation and digital disruption are all very well, but will prove meaningless unless they can improve the customer experience. (But Elliott also conceded that the likes of Uber and Airbnb have succeeded because of complacency among industry incumbents.)

Advances in technology don’t have to lead us to the dystopian worlds of “Modern Times” or “Metropolis” (or any of the other post-apocalyptic visions that cinema and literature like to give us). However, the understandable focus on innovation must take the “human factor” into greater account when making design decisions, undertaking cost-benefit analysis and opting for one technology format over another.

Conclusion? It’s not totally clear whether we are entering another dot.com market correction, but there is a case to be made for whether or not we are seeing enough of a “technology dividend” from the current digital disruption and economic displacement centred on the use of cloud, social and mobile platforms; and whether we need a new methodology to measure the impact of the Internet of Things, robotics, AI, nano-technology, AR/VR, cognitive apps, wearables, 3-D printing, etc.

Next week: It’s never too late to change….

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