• Sandra Norval

Technology - Scourge or Saviour?


Will technology be the answer to our problems, or the creator of more?

Let's be honest, our title is a bit of a trick question.


We have a tendency, us humans, to speak of things in a collective sense. Technology is often spoken of as a single thing, this huge behemoth that heralds the advent of Skynet (the company that brought about our doom in the Terminator movies), or will revolutionise the way we all live creating Utopia.


That's really the stuff of fiction but reality is somewhere between the two and our task is to find the space where it sits alongside us, our ecological selves. The fear many feel comes when we see a threat and our limbic brains generate the fight or flight mechanism in us. We then seek out information with a tendency to embrace the things that appeal to our initial thoughts, finding affirmation for whichever side we first landed on. It takes courage to keep a fully open mind and allow it to be changed. Even more courage when we follow that up with action.


We won't be drawing momentous conclusions in a single blog post, but let's look at a few aspects that need to be considered.


Technology is not just about robots or artificial intelligence. It's not even about computers. Think back to the history of the canals and railways. Engineering took huge strides forward in developing the technology needed to shift land at scale, manage volumes of water, turn water into power through burning coal and creating pressure, construction of bridges, tracks, locks, barges and trains... all this whilst also investing in new manufacturing methods to scale up production to meet the new demand being created with these new trade routes.


Fortunes were made and lost, legacies for the next few centuries were created and those were both good and bad.


The negatives included slavery, massive loss of life in unsafe conditions, the beginnings of a huge uptick in carbon emissions and the changing of our landscapes in ways that had never before been imaginable let alone possible.


The positives brought prosperity to new regions, entire lives created around these routes, towns springing up, cities developing, people moving around the world like never before. Holidays to the seaside became possible, people could travel to find work, and businesses could find entirely new ways to grow.


The transition we are going through now is in many ways very similar. We focus on growth, which we recognise as building more towns and expanding our cities. We understand it as economic growth of businesses making more money and creating more jobs for people to travel to.


It's also very different. New types of growth are possible. We can use the technology to work remotely, create new business models in which the customer never physically connects with a business, we can access information and transfer goods and money like never before. It almost seems like this means the planet is preserved when you view it from the comfort of a sofa in a coffee shop or co-working space.


And right there is the challenge we face.


While we speed up the transfer of stuff, accelerate our need to communicate with each other without meeting in person, as we become more disconnected from each other but more connected to our technology the damage is being done way out of our sight. It's easy to think that it isn't happening.


But, it is.


Rare earth minerals are being mined as we speak in horrendously unsafe environments. Often they are contributing to deforestation, strip mining is causing horrific runoff into rivers and people are working for a pittance whilst exposing themselves to slow deaths through chemicals or rapid deaths as a result of accidents.


And so we have a conundrum on our hands. We must find ways to improve the supply chain of the hardware needed for our future technology, eliminate modern slavery, eradicate unsafe working practices and seek alternatives to the rare earth minerals which will run out. We must act wisely when developing technology that we will assign control to. In short we need to rapidly find our happy medium. That sweet spot where technology is part of creating the future we want in terms of the service it provides and how it is brought into being.


We continue to develop our infrastructure for movement of people, with hundreds of people doing the great work of focusing on making it more sustainable. Alongside it we develop the infrastructure for the technology that will enable less movement. In both cases we must learn lessons from the past and look beyond the very apparent damage. Between the lines there is also the challenge of what happens to individuals caught in the crossover to the future.


As fortunes are made and lost, lives are impacted. We see so many reports about AI and robots being able to perform many of the jobs we have now. What happens to the people who aren't able to transition? Reports often say there won't be less jobs, they will just be different but somewhere in that mix we must help people to transition to new roles.


For those who don't find their place in future roles we will see mental health issues, physical health issues, money problems and homelessness. The risk of civil unrest, strike action, migration caused by economic stress and climate impacts is significant and insurers are now getting clearer on where they will and won't insure meaning many people will also lose the value of what they believed were assets.


But is technology an enemy in all this? Absolutely not. It is a huge part of the solution. We can communicate in ways we once could not have imagined. We are able to travel anywhere in the world (assuming we can fund it of course) and we can travel virtually too. Our understanding of what is happening to our planet is expanding rapidly with the pace accelerating so we collect more data every day than existed while we built the railways. The capabilities of robotics, machine learning and other emerging technologies grow exponentially and the possibilities for finding the solutions we need are immense.


In amongst all that complexity, however, we must connect dots. We have to find the things that expose us to unintended consequences and create new risks so we can address them. We need to shape technologies that don't just serve humans but serve the planet and all life on it. We must absolutely recognise our place in the ecological systems we depend on so we aren't effectively creating a chainsaw to cut down the very tree we sit in.


Can we do that?


Absolutely we can. It's in how we live our individual lives and the choices we make but it is also within how we structure our businesses. And that is where the sweet spot lies.


We have the opportunity to build our businesses to embrace technology but at the same time to do it in a way which cares for people and above all for the planet. We can create strategies for a time of transition which enable a diverse workforce to work differently whilst making choices in our supply chain which drive positive change.


You can create products and services which are part of that change, future ready through use of technology, by innovating and by building structure and governance that sets you up for growth.


Why? Because growing the businesses that are doing beneficial work is the way reduce the impact of those doing harm.


Make sure that your business is one of those leading the way to the future, here at Bluedotaug we can support you to develop a strategy to build it, value propositions for your primary products and services and support innovation to develop new ones.


Get in touch today to make sure your present is shaping the future, email sandra.norval@bluedotaug.com or call 07985 610626

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