11.0 Emergence and enablement

We only know we’re learning, oftentimes, when the experience of doing it opens up the unexpected. Learning can make us go out of our comfort zone; the emotional intelligence of knowing how to handle such discomfort of challenging existing conceptions is a vital part of how we expand our minds.

Opening up new neural pathways is part of acquiring new knowledge and skills. It keeps us from getting stuck on a hamster wheel.

This is also where maintaining a boundary between what is ‘open’ and ‘closed’ matters so much, so that we can have a sense of who we are and a unique identity.

‘Think different’ was Steve Jobs mantra. As the world’s first digital leader, it was his call that turned Apple into the world’s biggest source of innovation and wealth it is today.

Gartner has predicted that a third of today’s jobs will be taken by robots in the next ten years. This doesn’t account for the many that have already been lost to automation and the friction-free commerce that digital technology has introduced already.

So how are we going to give human beings the skills they need to fend for themselves as digital humans?

There is a tension here to balance between familiarity and the shock of the new.

Over time, we have lost the abilities many of our ancestors had to make things, and of having the simple act of craft close to us. Most of us can no longer make our own clothes or grow the food we put on the table.

As globalisation and the consolidation of industry has taken hold, many of these abilities have been ceded to big corporations. The average individual has bought into the ‘ease and convenience’ proposition handed down from big industry and lost, arguably, a set of coping mechanisms and a certain self-resilence along the way.

Today, ‘friction-free’ means even a simple act of online conversation is being replaced by just the most basic interactivity. We are undergoing a redux, in which clicking ‘like’, ‘follow’ and ‘favourite’ buttons happens in place of a conversation. The ability to express ourselves is being replaced by the emoji and favicon.

But this is not the whole story. And for digital humans, the story cannot end there. Because for every aspect of connection that being wired-up will bring, there is also the chance for reconnection, to rediscover the creativity and the innate skills that make us so great as human beings.

Thanks to the access we have to the collective brain as well as our own, we can perhaps re-discover our real potential in the face of being subsumed by machines. With the right kind of technology, we can extend our organic reach as humans, not just fight to keep pace with the intelligence of robots.

The one thing artificial intelligence can’t do is be gloriously human. Everyone deserves to stand out in a sea of content and to understand how they can for their future benefit.

The idea that code will write robot behaviours and invent new kinds of intelligences that will outsmart us, or make us dependent upon them, or even destroy us, can be paralysing. This is also a time where there has never been a greater opportunity to encourage learning by doing, and the chance for everyone to produce tools they make themselves as digital innovators.

‘Our most important machines are not machines that do what humans do better, but machines that can do things we can’t do at all’ is how Kevin Kelly has described it. ‘Dealing with alien intelligences will require a new skill, and yet another broadening our ourselves’.

Being digital humans means, quite logically then, that we seek out ways to be more of what we are, not less.

As we try and work out how to cope with quantum leaps in technical capabilities ahead, we can do better than to take ourselves to bits, as sacrificial subjects to a great global anatomy, like flies being dissected by eager twelve year olds. Our development of digital understanding might be brutal without better ways than that to gain insights, insights that can teach us well, and that inspire us to be inspiring to others, rather than just ‘working for the man’.

Emergent code makes us whole in conjunction with it. It is living a life beyond notifications. An approach to code which is emergent is one that enables us, so we can augment our fullest capabilities instead of inadvertently surrender them, or create a hideous perversion of humankind.

The digital world gives us two, massive, get-out clauses that alleviate the risk of this possible future. Firstly, the insights we can derive and share through data and secondly, the opportunity to make things.

We can develop digital skills and use data and technology create metrics and compass points to aid our navigation towards a bright digital future, becoming far more than the sum of all our parts, both past and present, as a result through focusing on the human side of code. This section showcases that emerging opportunity.