Sweden played host to more than 300 leaders, innovators, executives, and researchers from 54 countries this June at the Tällberg Forum to consider the tremendous impact of technology on humankind.
With a conference theme of “Beyond our imagination” the general thesis put forth by presenters is that technology has outpaced our ability to use or understand it. Consider, for instance, the reality that it took us more than 20 years to make use of the Internet and online technology as we do now to interact and connect globally.
In the broadest sense, technology is altering human behaviors. The impact has social, political, economic, and environmental repercussions that we can see now but can only speculate on for the future.
There is an uneasy relationship developing between technology, humans and nature. Brian Arthur of the Santa Fe Institute underscored our basic instinct about technology: We don’t want it to control us; we want to control it. We want technology to enhance our human life and to be of service to “all living species.”
At the forum, we screened Nora Bateson’s film “An Ecology of Mind”, a beautiful portrait of her father Gregory Bateson, the anthropologist, biologist, and “father of systems thinking.” It was an invitation to understand our development through the lens of nature – how living things hold together and that every living thing exists in relation to another living thing. How is it that we miss this point when we take action that breaks the fragile ecological thread that weaves together our existence, such as our sometimes less-than-thoughtful use of technology?
In part, I was reminded, this happens because research is conducted in silos. Anita Goal of Nanobiosym Diagnostics and the inventor of a DNA reader that provides instant health information for individuals said we need to transect traditional boundaries to bring the best together. She predicts that nanotechnology will make it come together and that this could be the next quantum leap. To do this, she suggests, we must evolve technology in harmony with nature and take a more holistic view.
Speaking of which, Mr. Toilet (aka Jack Slim), from the World Toilet Organization (WTO), drove home the point that there are billions of people in developing countries who still don’t have access to sanitary facilities. Being a successful businessperson, he became financially independent and founded this NGO with the purpose of improving sanitation facilities globally.
Technological innovations alone are not enough to bring about changes that are good for all of humanity. Business strategy and models must be designed to embrace and support innovation. Since its inception in 2001, the WTO has created a network of 235 organizations in 58 countries. That is an impressive example of how to effect meaningful change today. Mr. Toilet is raising awareness. His network is creating availability. From here, local societies will follow and create new laws and policies.
In the discussions at the Tällberg Forum, it was demonstrated over and over again that without broadening the perspectives on all levels, little will change. This is equally valid whether you are working with global politics, research, production, sales, start-ups or for any type of assignment. We must recognize the interconnectivity of everything and approach our daily assignment with that in mind. If we do, we will move well beyond our imaginations, in a positive direction.