Chapter 02 - Humans at the helm
HUMANS AT THE HELM
Blind usage of new technologies poses great risks to our common future. Unforeseen social and societal consequences will abound if we continue to develop technology without humans as the central focus. We must take a humanist approach to the development of new technologies and implement a rigorous design process in order to respond to actual human needs.
Rethinking the digital world
Engaging with technology is an integral part of being human, especially as our online and offline lives converge. We trust technology with both trivial and critical processes and decisions. Technologies such as AI and machine learning – if used in the right way – make it possible to work and live more efficiently, allow time for more important and valuable activities, and help qualify decisions with insightful data.
"The world wouldn’t function without these digital technologies"
Respondent in survey
If those technologies are used uncritically, however, we may find ourselves deprived of agency, and if implemented without popular acceptance, we will be subjected to algorithm bias. The effects can readily go unseen given technologies that enable us to enter parallel worlds— such as VR and the metaverse – are designed to shape our cognitive understanding. The same concern is valid for face recognition and biometrics, which can manipulate the human psyche more than we realize.
The population is divided regarding the perceived societal effects of digitalization. 50% of the population believe digital development will improve our economic growth and working conditions. On the other hand, 62% are concerned our privacy will decrease, while approximately 1/3 of the population believe economic equality and social coherence will worsen. Yet few have opted out of apps or services which were harming society or their well-being.
13% of the population have opted out of a digital service or product due to harmful effects on society. 24% have opted out of a digital service because of harmful effects on their quality of life. Social media services are by far the most frequently deleted.
20% of Danes between 18 and 29 years of age have opted out a digital service or product because of harmful effects on society.Share this fact
A good question to ask ourselves is: What do we want to get out of technology? We are not just per default going to live better, richer, healthier and more meaningful lives due to technologies. Technology can also lead to worse, poorer, less meaningful and unsustainable lives. The reason is technology is not neutral. It comes with built-in assumptions, expectations, and values. Technology is not going to give us the answers to what a good and healthy society is, what a good relationship between citizen and state looks like, or how we create a secure international system. Humans need to answer to that question. And it is very much value-based.
Anne-Marie Engtoft LarsenDenmark’s tech ambassador in Silicon Valley
If we are to develop, regulate, and use digital technologies in accordance with democratic and sustainable principles, the first step is to activate critical sensibility. We need to understand technologies in order to successfully navigate the pitfalls. Escalating political focus on educating children in primary schools, such as the course ”Understanding Technology”, is a first step in response to these new challenges. The newest Digital Strategy established by the Danish government prioritizes the digital education of children and youth. Initiatives include the Digital Traffic Club promoting safe internet behavior and educational courses promoting healthy digital culture. It is extremely important as we can’t afford an A and a B-team in a world in which the digitalization is increasing.
New technologies change the world with unprecedented speed, and we have little chance of predicting how they will impact the future without critical thinking. This makes careful consideration and implementation of new technologies all the more necessary. A big risk to our shared future is the unforeseen consequences of using new technologies blindly. Especially in a world in which humans aren’t critical in their daily usage.
50% of the population believe digital development will improve our economic growth and our working conditions, while 43% believe digital development will improve climate and environmental conditions. On the other hand, 62% are concerned our privacy will worsen, while approximately 29% believe there will be reduced economic equality, and 35% believe that our social coherence will become worse due to the digital development.
What will future technologies make better or worse?
Our task at hand is not just to "do no harm". We have to actively contribute to creating a better digital world from a holistic point of view, to reach towards CO2-negativity, increase well-being and positive development. If we are to move towards a better place with technologies, we have to establish systems that care about people and nature and don’t take advantage of resources – regardless of the resources being human attention and energy or natural resources.
Anders HvidCo-founder DareDisrupt
Humanity at the helm
Technologies are inherently transgressive. Though most technologies are developed abroad, with tremendous output from Silicon Valley in particular, they often lead to global utilization. But technologies function differently in different contexts, and they have widely different effects. Understanding those contexts and effects will become a competitive driver for companies in the future.
It has become clear that so-called disruptive technologies are not disruptive in themselves. What makes them disruptive are the ways in which humans, systems, and organizations use them. And at this time, we are not spending nearly enough time researching the contextual and situational use of digital technologies. The missing link is to integrate the digital sphere with the human and cultural sphere.
“It depends on the problem. Sometimes people are too quick to say that the digital solution is always the most effective.”
Respondent in survey
Digital development requires a sophisticated approach to contextual and cultural understanding. Some digital needs are universal and can be predefined, but some are inherent in a specific context, for a specific target group, in a certain situation.
For actual human needs to be considered by specific technologies, the needs of a specific use-case must be investigated. Companies and institutions can achieve this by drawing on design traditions such as participatory design, while social sciences can help understanding the context of users, co-workers, citizens, and societal effects. Interestingly, up to of a product’s environmental footprint is determined in the design phase. Therefore, considerate and thorough design processes are essential for reducing net impact.
Human beings are the solution and technology is the tool. Technologies will not define a good life, it will not inherently comply with planetary boundaries, or demonstrate what a well-functioning society looks like. Those questions need human answers, and they demand we define the values. We need to prioritize human life in every decision.
Expected societal effects
It can never be the case that technology is the solution. It is always humans who create solutions, and use technologies as a tool. What we need are technologies that actually are solving real and perceived problems - rather than creating new problems. In order to do this, businesses need to use the social sciences much earlier than they have done in the past and understand the need for 'digital integrators' with dual competencies. Both being able to understand the technical aspects and the social factors is critically important.
David Budtz PedersenKnowledge Broker for Algorithms Data & Democracy (Aalborg University)
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A New Kind of Home Care
Haderslev Municipality and Public Intelligence has initiated a pilot project in 2021 for ‘own-home nursing’. A new kind of digital home care makes it possible for citizens and relatives to access the right help, at almost any time, so the elder citizen can continue living in their own home. Most elderly people prefer to receive help in their own home instead of moving into a nursing home, as the latter is thought to restrict independence. The aim of own-home nursing is to provide elderly citizens with more flexibility and help them become more self-reliant, hoping to accommodate the aging population challenge as the 80+ age segment is expected to double within 10 years.
Technologies will be added to peoples’ homes, along with new decentralized nursing home-services. The combination of services will be unique for every participant, but the solutions are standardized. The citizen will be provided with a GPS measuring activities, watches, sensors in mattresses, and diapers will measure sleep and urination patterns. Screen visits facilitate social and practical support, and a digital dashboard enables coordination and overview. Collection of relevant data enables alarms if the user walks far from home, if they don’t make it back to bed, or if eating patterns are alarming.
Personal care and physical visits will be implemented as needed. Throughout the day, employees visit the patient in order to provide help with tasks the citizens can’t handle themselves with digital help. If needed, the digital contact will reach participants via the screen, watch, or phone, and the user also has the opportunity to socialize via common activities and dinners conducted digitally.
The project is currently in rapid development, and more citizens will be included in the project. The municipality has experienced increased satisfaction among employees thanks to greater independence and deeper relations with patients. Technological competences are essential for further development of the initiative.
A responsible revolution now
The digital value compassNavigating towards a new digital paradigm
We have identified a set of nine values needed for developing a truly sustainable digital society. These values constitute a value compass, which companies, organizations, politicians, and citizens can use to navigate towards a more sustainable digital future.