Can there be a human-centric approach to technology?


The industrial approach to work clearly determined the tools for workers. The machine and the ways to work with it were given. People essentially served those machines. Workers did not need to be concerned and feel responsible for anything else. They just followed the algorithmic process and the instructions given to them.

Creative, entrepreneurial work is very different. The context of work is changing from generic, repetitive practices to contextual, creative practices. The first thing to do is to answer the questions: What are we here for? What should we achieve? What should we do next and with whom? What tools would help us? It is not about generic processes but contextual interaction. Key questions for a knowledge worker have to do with how to do things and what tools to use. This time, the machines, the tools, need to serve the worker. Human beings come first. It is, in fact, a fundamental change because the needed tools may not be available, or even exist, yet.

Historians claim that the invention of the printing press led to a society of readers, not a society of writers despite the huge potential of the new technology. Broadcasting systems such as radio and television continued the same pattern. A small number of people were active producers and a large number were passive receivers. Computer literacy still often follows the same model. In practice it means the capability to use the given tools. But literacy to just use is not what we need.

The perspective of the consumer/user separate from the producer was the perspective of the industrial age. Being capable meant for most people learning how to behave in the way somebody else needed you to behave.

As a result of Internet-based technologies we now have our own printing presses and broadcasting stations. We have slowly learned how to write and how to speak in totally new ways; we are now learning how to work utilizing the newest tools. But in the post-industrial world, it is not enough if we learn faster how to use the new technologies. We have to learn how to make them.

To be human is to make things, to make tools. That is unique to us as species and important for us individually. More and more often the most successful new solutions are built on the very newest tools, the newest technologies

We are typically always one step behind what technology can offer. One of the most important, largely overlooked, trends happening at the moment is the democratization of technological opportunity. Many things are becoming much cheaper and much easier than before, and some things, such as a contextual approach to technology, are becoming possible, perhaps for the first time. You can soon make your own solutions meeting your specific, unique needs just like the most successful startups do.

Paradoxically, the human-centric society is going to be built on technological intelligence. The code may be the main domain of creativity and innovations. It is definitively the number one high leverage activity in the post-industrial society.

Mitch Resnick from MIT talks about the challenge: “After people have learned to read they can read to learn. After people have learned to write they can write to learn. And after people have learned to code, they can code to learn.”

Creative learning is for us what productivity meant during the industrial age. Creative learning is the human edge that separates us from machines, also in the future.

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