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Staying Human In A Digital Age

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By now we are all aware of the pervasive nature of technology in our everyday lives. Whether it be our entire working day spent in front of a computer; the frustrating interaction with retail automation at Coles (‘please place your item in the bagging area’ ‘please place your item in the bagging area’ ‘please wait for assistance’), or the simple brilliance of a message from an overseas relative that arrives instantaneously on the little rectangle held in our hands: markers of the digital age are all around us, so much so that we often don’t even register them.

Rapid technological advancement or what is being referred to as ‘the fourth industrial revolution’ has been – as with all human endeavours that have heralded social change throughout history – accompanied by both excitement and concern. There is a real sense of excitement around the potential for this technological renaissance to improve our lives, but also, concern centred around a feeling of uncertainty. What impact will digitisation have on our workforce and our jobs? The conversation around the future of professions is not a new one. Critics have sounded the alarm on robots stealing our jobs and the rise of AI now for decades. Again, the cry has become so commonplace, we become somewhat numbed to the message.

But what about how the digitisation of every facet of our existence is affecting us as human beings. What exactly does it mean for our identity? And is this potentially the core question we should have been asking all along? This very question was tackled by a stellar panel during Vivid Ideas Exchange. Hosted by The Legal Forecast in collaboration with Incubate Hub, The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering and Transhumanism Australia, the panel discussed the thought-provoking topic: ‘Who are you, really? Human Identity in a Digital Age.’  A Human Agency went along to get inspired by this awesome topic and speakers!

The impressive panel comprised Kara Hinesley (Head of Public Policy, Government and Philanthropy for Twitter Australia and New Zealand), David Kinley (Professor and Chair of Human Rights Law at the University of Sydney) Ashley Brinson (Executive Director of the Warren Centre for Engineering), Peter Chen (Senior Lecturer, Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney), Peter Xing (Futurist, Co-Founder of Transhumanism Australia, Technology & Innovation Manager at KPMG), and Rameen Hayat (writer, spoken word poet, and student).

Bringing different perspectives and knowledge to the discussion, each speaker touched on what it means to be human in the digital age. Interestingly, a common theme of story-telling emerged. Ashley Brinson explained that in the modern world, although science increasingly explains identity, there is no binary on/off switch. Quoting Muriel Rukeyser, Ashley stated simply yet profoundly ‘the universe is made of stories, not of atoms.’ Likewise, Kara Hinesley credited Twitter’s phenomenal success to its ability to connect people and their stories. Technology in this sense is used as a means to further create our identities and aid our human experience.

David Kinley asked that we consider the flip side, claiming ‘we live in an era of tradeable identity’ and raising the notion that our online personalities are entities themselves not controlled by our offline selves (a slightly terrifying concept we have also heard described as our online ‘voodoo doll’). Adding to this discussion, Peter Xing cheerfully posed the question: how do we compete with AI in the future when we’re stuck with the biological limitations of human longevity, wellbeing and intelligence? The answer: transhumanism! But will we still be us when we’re more parts robot than human? As a company all about ‘humans’ we were equal parts fascinated + terrified by this concept!

So, who are you, really?

Well, we won’t pretend to have the answer to that question but isn’t it an interesting conversation to have? The discussion around human identity in a digital age is an important one, particularly for organisations grappling with the effects of technology in their everyday functioning. While technological advancement is replacing manual tasks and our roles are constantly evolving as a result, this gives us the exciting opportunity to let go of those time-consuming tasks and focus on the work we really love to do, wherever we wish to do it.

At the end of the day, technology is advancing to support us in achieving our purpose as humans. Our values must remain at the centre of technological innovation to increase quality of life and enhance our human connection, not detract from who we are.

At A Human Agency, we are (still!) all about keeping people at the centre of change. If you want to dissect this fascinating topic further, call us for a chat!

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