Machines (Back to Humans) or: Who leads whom?

At this year’s Henley Global Masterclasses, I was immediately pulled in by the motto “Championing humanity in a Digital World”. That’s due to two factors:

  1. I recently submitted my Henley MBA on the impact of digitisation on the music industry with its benefits (data transparency) and threats (staff redundancies) and the need for freelance or gig economy workers to do some “old school” sitting around the fire – exchanging knowledge and stories – in other words, cooperate and collaborate – even among competitors.
  2. Some of the most impressive musicians of our times, such as QUEEN, came up with their rather visionary lyrics on the relationship between humans and machines – as in their 1984 song “Machines (Back to Humans)”. As if they’d known that one day, Henley would create a global masterclass on that subject….

In his opening speech on day 2, Henley’s very own Director of Alumni, Jean-Pierre Choulet, created the background scenario by a rather unusual run-through of what humans have achieved so far. His focus was not on what humans invented but their relationship with the items they had “domesticated”.

Humans “domesticated” plants – this led to a dependency on potatoes and rice. We no longer need to hunt and kill what we want to eat.

Humans also “domesticated” 1s and 0s – this led to digitisation. We are now dependent on (meta)data and machines.

So who leads whom?

Does humanity lead digitisation or is it the other way round?

Where does the energy of the humans come from? Not from a battery but from other humans or nature. Digitisation may well have bought humans time to do other things by automating previously menial tasks. It has, however, also led to a lack of human interaction.

With Henley’s amazing personal development courses, as part of the MBA, it is clear that their focus is on being “an exclusive faculty for humanity”. Back to the question about who leads whom though.

The course participants reacted with unsure glances at each other when Jon Foster-Pedley asked them to breathe in and out just so they could decide which of the two activities they preferred. All that just to reiterate that just doing either activity, but not both, would kill you. The requirement for a BALANCE between the two activities was the main eye opener of the sessions for me. It hammered home the importance of the equilibrium between the “in and out” and, in this context, the balance between the human and the machine (or digitisation).

As long as neither becomes enslaved by the other, the balance will be maintained and should ensure a more sustainable future for mankind. On a small scale, this balance might be that we should learn to resist the urge to stare down angrily at our mobile phone navigation apps, willing them to lead us to the correct location, and instead look up and ask another human in the street for the way. We may be surprised what else we can learn from such short conversations.

On a bigger scale, this balance might be that corporations and companies remember that humans need energy and the biggest energy provider is nature – which means that innovation to create sustainable ways to live on our planet may well involve digitisation, but it probably also means that we allow ourselves to follow our original gut feelings and instincts – in fact, be human!

Also published on my personal blog and on LinkedIn.

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