This article was first published on ictspring.com
Is technology harming society? With digital on the rise, this debate of the XXI century seems to be growing year on year, instead of being settled. The speed of technology developments overpowers any attempt to outline what the future will look like only a few years from now. Sometimes it feels like thinking of the future might be too early, but tomorrow it might be too late.
Nevertheless, what we humans do about technology and with technology is ultimately our decision. We’re responsible for our future with it. The current challenge in a nutshell is how we can shape a common future that is for all, powered by technology, especially digital.
The attractiveness of "digital" is undeniable. It has made our lives, every single sphere of them, not only easier but also resourceful and promising. Through technology, we dream about new ventures that our human capabilities cannot make possible. And, through it, businesses and society are transforming and shaping themselves in ways we didn’t know or think before.
Valérie, Sustainability Leader at PwC Luxembourg, puts it this way, "We need to talk, we need to debate on how digital technology is shaping the world we live in, its impact on the way we produce, consume and communicate. Certainly, it comes with enough positive things for us as consumers, but it also poses important challenges. One thing is discovering how far we can go and another is to answer how far we want to go. The latter, that's crucial, will be conditioned by the human being’s ability and will to shape the world for the greater good.”
"In the past years, many businesses have struggled to shape and execute digital transformation plans and have often failed to obtain their full benefits,” thinks Patrice Witz, Technology Leader at PwC Luxembourg. However, he adds, "The Covid-19 crisis has put them face-to-face with the reality. We can expect businesses to rethink their digital and physical interaction to make them more human and more meaningful."
Among several debates about the impact of digital technology in our lives, there is an ongoing one whether robots powered by artificial intelligence will take over human jobs. While they have already replaced certain tasks, the true extent of how much of our work we want to be transferred is yet up to us. Finding a balance between operational efficiency, cost optimisation and, most importantly, human well-being, that's the golden intersected area where we ideally want to be.
Digital technology isn't the enemy. On the contrary, we must see it as an ally in medicine, communication, education, production, security, financial services, transportation, user experience, you name it. But figuring out boundaries, in some cases, is very necessary. And it isn't like an answer you search on the internet, but we need to get there", says Valérie.
Technology isn’t to blame, but how we want to use it could be
Like most things in life, technological advances can be obnoxious in a way because they alter habits and methods that we are used to. That's particularly relevant at work. Technology adoption in the digital transformation journey of any organisation can fail because of the lack of emotional attachment to it. In the personal sphere, however, this adoption tends to follow a smoother path. We willingly add technology to our daily lives—for instance a voice assistant— either for the sake of curiosity or because we've already realised its benefits.
In general, for technology—whatever shape it takes—to be seen as an ally and be better pondered, humans need a personal connection with it, and understand how it improves, amplifies or advances their lives. Increasingly, this connection goes beyond the personal realm because people are paying attention to the environment and other societal issues and to how technology is or will impact them.
Technology is the result of human inventiveness along its evolutionary path. We have created goods and services to cope with the circumstances in which we have had to live, and to search for comfort. Historically, we have kept technology under control but, with digital, the rules of the game seem to have changed. Boundaries have fallen and possibilities appear to be endless. For instance, we've reached the point where we no longer understand how certain A.I algorithms get results.
Although dealing with technology that thinks, without understanding how it does it, isn't reaffirming, we should take some steps backwards and reflect on why we want certain technological developments and how we are going to use them. To Patrice, "The pivot of technology development are people's needs and human experiences and that calls for true multidisciplinary collaboration. And the key to get there is enabling enough space for discussion where all stakeholders sit down, debate and learn from each other.” That will result in technology that is both adaptable, adoptable, appealing and welcomed.
Technology for good
Business sustainability goes far beyond numbers. Valérie's affirmation couldn't make it any clearer, "The world needs a reshuffle, and that cannot wait any longer. We need to realign business, economy and society needs. Businesses and all organisations have great responsibility to adapt to this new context and figure out how to create value for clients, communities and society at large. And all that is happening while they face digital disruption and transition towards a low carbon economy."
Business sustainability finds its true anchor when it answers human needs. Digital technology nowadays is poised to evolve the human experience. Never before have we been that equipped to provide greater access to information and better job satisfaction, to enhance and democratise education, make the unbanked bankable, have more informed leaders to make the right decisions or get closer to the ones that are thousands of kilometers away.
"Digital technology has to be for good,” reflects Patrice. "Let's think of ourselves, but augmented,” he adds. “We need to balance things out, the physical world should be preserved and enhanced by means of digital environments. The Covid-19 crisis has shown that we can successfully combine both, to keep going.”
For businesses, success is less and less about being the one that is larger, but the one that goes faster. For individuals, it has to do with our capabilities to accept change and to be open to learn. Most of that has to do with how digital technology is evolving and converging at an overwhelmingly fast pace. Technology-related decisions should ideally be aligned with every organisation's values.
What we humans do about technology and with technology has always been up to us. That’s a privilege and a responsibility too.
PwC has developed a Digital Fitness App to improve people's knowledge and readiness to live these digital times. It's available for free until 31 July.