Will Technology Impact the Future of Humanity and Philanthropy?

Technology is neither good nor bad, but it is also not neutral.

As a philanthropic organisation, we strive to bring together open minds from the corporate, start-up, academic and charity sectors to create open dialogues around how the current developments in technology may impact the world. So we felt privileged to partner with Intersticia and Philanthropy Australia in bringing Brave Conversations to the city of Melbourne on May 20th and 21st.

We spent two days discussing where technology is taking humanity, and not shying away from tackling the big (and sometimes dark) topics.

At the core of our conversations was the importance of defining and maintaining our human values in the face of technological innovation. If philanthropy is about promoting the welfare of people, how do we ensure that these projected technology trends create value for the human race?


The Importance of Creating Technology Without Losing Humanity

Exploring the cultural, political and economic implications of future technology and how this affects the role of humanity

Over two days we tackled and discussed data ownership and control, the engineering or “hacking” of human bodies (CRISPR, genetic engineering and transhumanism) and brains (the beast of internet algorithms which propagate fake news), and how technology has redefined the universal experiences of birth and death.

Ultimately, whoever owns and controls the data controls the future of humanity. So how do we decide who gets to create the technology?

Artificial intelligence still incorporates rules and constructs which reflects the biases and values of the specific person or group of people who developed it. How can we be certain that the technology which controls our lives has been created with the rules we agree to? Certainly workforce diversity in the technology sector is something to aspire to, but there is much more to it than just that. Today, technology is everyone’s responsibility — it is not a niche interest area, and treating it as such means that business, legal regulation, social and moral norms and ethics will lag behind the pace of innovation.

Humanity is capable of great creativity but also great destruction, and the creation of these powerful technologies challenges us to confront our human values.

When looking at a future where there may be no limit to what technology can do, we have to ask — what should it do?

Our personal data is a highly valuable asset and can be used to greatly benefit the human race —in the provision of healthcare, for example. But unless we analyse and articulate the human values underpinning our use of technology, the very same data could even be used to exclude people from health services. How do we balance the pros and cons of living in a world of increasing surveillance capitalism?

What does the advent of “explainable AI” mean for the future of humanity? When we program consciousness into machines (algorithms that have the ability to explain the algorithms that make the decisions) — will humans become irrelevant?

The Need for Strong Leadership and Regulation

bringing together open minds from corporate, start-up, charity, government and academia

When questions like these come up, it seems that the solution lies in examining who has the power to make changes. The core theme of these discussions settled on the importance of strong leadership, regulation and the preservation of safety and trust in today’s economy which is increasingly built on reputation and transparency.

What is the role of government and centralised governance in all of this? What is the new world order now that the internet transcends national borders? We are seeing countries like China and Russia close off their internet and replicate and enforce their national borders in digital form. How can the creation, ownership and control of technology be regulated in this environment? Should it be regulated by governments — which are driven by election cycles and therefore inherently short-term focused? Or by corporates who can take longer-term views? What models and standards do we use? Is democracy still working?

What about capitalism? The purpose of business as we understand it today is to maximise profits for shareholders and owners. Can we redefine measures of success beyond money to include social good? How do we reconcile the tension between achieving economic growth and creating social good? Is the development of these technologies within today’s capitalist and “productivity-focused” economy, dehumanising people and reducing them to an economic value?

If philanthropy is about promoting the welfare of people, how do we ensure these projected technology trends create value for the human race?

And what is the role of the human in all of this? Automation and artificial intelligence is forcing us to ask ourselves “what is the good life?” Without the need to work for work’s sake — will we be able to focus our creative energies on the arts, games and entertainment?

Most importantly, what do these technological developments mean for the evolution of philanthropy?

The traditional philanthropic model has seen us rely on high net worth individuals and corporates to deliver social value (which enables them to decide what social issues are important or relevant to them). How could these social issues be addressed by everyday people — through traditional philanthropy, government taxation… or is there another way?

In today’s technological landscape it is more vital than ever, not to lose sight of the values that keep us human, and humanity’s core purpose of serving and helping each other survive and thrive.


Written by Katrina Turner, Marketing Director at BPF

Special thanks to Anni Rowland-Campbell and her team at Intersticia for facilitating these captivating discussions, and Philanthropy Australia and the Telstra Foundation for providing venue hosting facilities.

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