Transcending the Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs
Is Earth Positivity the key to Transcending the Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs?
Back in the early 2000s, after the tech bubble burst, Technology, Business Operations, and Finance departments became profoundly fragmented within organisations, with each one increasingly siloed and working on different things. At senior management level, tech people were being frozen out, with CIOs and CTOs having to report to COOs and CFOs who typically were strongly averse to innovation and its associated costs. What’s more, with those at board level lacking deep technological understanding, miscommunication was rife and only served to further widen the rift, and increase risk. We got silos between Tech | Business | Finance .
Holding the purse strings as the ultimate decision-makers, Business and Finance began to quash innovation, which put their organisations under great threat. Few can remain immune to the influence of technology-driven disruption, innovation, and value creation.
Even by the time that organisations had begun to wake up to the fact that the communication gap needed to be bridged between T | B | F in order to futureproof, tech was again kept out of discussions. Instead of turning to already-established departments, external consultants were brought in en masse to help management and boards solve the problem. By this point it was already too late, though few were aware of this.
The internet and computing were already relying on central services delivered by third-parties to provide ‘safety’ and facilitate connections. These third-parties, even back then, may not have necessarily had people’s best interests at heart. Despite having started out with innocent intentions, they just happened to design business models that now dictate company direction; that is, garnering users whose data is then treated as a commodity to increase their revenue streams. Aggregated data yields knowledge (Big Data), of the market and what is in demand, and this information is then sold on to the highest bidder. To influence demand, opinions, decisions and people in general.
I became acutely aware of this issue back in 2013 when I was tasked by the Norwegian Financial Services Association (today Finans Norge) and the Nordic Trustee to commercialize an anonymous communication system aiming to protect whistleblowers. This was at the time same that the Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden cases were unfolding and Big Tech was being asked by the National Security Agency to surrender its encryption keys under the Patriot Act. In a brave demonstration of integrity Ladar Levinson, the CEO of the encrypted email service Lavabit, used by Snowden when he communicated with the Guardian, decided to shut down the business rather than acquiescing and thereby surrendering his client’s data to the US authorities.
Through my own contact with some of the most prominent whistleblowers and technologists in the business world at that time, as well as various government agencies, I quickly came to realize that providing uncompromised digital integrity to these individuals would be virtually impossible without them having control over their operating system. This eventually led me to start Friend Software Corp (www.friendos.com), together with Hogne Titlestad, in the spring of 2014.
The fact is the internet revolution has failed us in one very important way. It promised a space where we could express ourselves and be creative, a place to connect and build relationships, a place free from oppression and censorship, and a place where our personal information would be secure. Today, the internet is fracturing and becoming controlled by a few. This can look very different depending on where you are in the world, whether through political rhetoric or ideological stand-offs. Essentially, what we can see is the internet polarizing and breaking apart into separate fractions, with the main ones being:
- Big Tech’s business models which harvest data in order to “sell demand” via intelligent marketing — with the majority of these companies residing in the US.
- The historic disregard of privacy by the Chinese which has enabled them to even better understand the nation’s demand and influence it directly.
- The disillusioned engineers who are becoming more revolutionary and anarcistic in their ways, instigating change via the “dark net” and blockchain technology with a focus on anonymity and disruption.
In Europe, legislators are trying to defend its citizens’ privacy through legislation. Take the recent introduction of GDPR, for example. However, the fact will always remain that it is nigh on impossible to regulate technology in this way as it will always be one step ahead of the law. Rather than focusing on deterministic legislation that tech can navigate around, lawmakers should instead look to develop functional requirements and principles from which legislation can then be drawn. Increasing deterministic regulation will only serve to stifle global communication across the internet, resulting in further fragmentation of the web.
Despite where one is in the world, the issues fundamentally remain the same. In the pursuit of profit our privacy and individuality is getting lost, our data is increasingly being exploited for commercial interest, and we are becoming increasingly aware that our current democracy is failing us with power becoming centralized. The world we live in has become a glass house where little can be hidden from view from those who know where and how to look. More than 90% of Facebook’s revenue, and more than 84% of Alphabet’s (Google), is derived from advertising. Data is constantly being collected, analyzed and sold on to the highest bidder and then used to influence demand.
Now, don’t get me wrong, as a commercially minded successful tech entrepreneur, I am not against profit and capital. Rather it is with the business models, and not the businesses themselves, that I take issue.
A great example of this comes from the one thing most of us would never leave the house, perhaps even a room, without — our mobile phones. I wonder, though, do you know how many apps you have on yours?
At a quick glance, I would estimate that I have about 60 on mine. In actual fact, when you make an exact count with the right tools, I have about 427, 367 of which are completely hidden.
What that essentially means is that day in, day out I am wandering around with a device in my pocket that has hundreds of unaccounted for apps, all of which have access to things like my microphone, messages and data, without me even realizing. Guess what, it was via another app that I was able to find this out!
Big Tech has almost unwarranted access to everything we do, with platforms designed to farm people’s data and sell it as effectively as possible. By building up a profile on us from this information it is able to predict, and subsequently manipulate, our likes and dislikes, our purchasing habits, and even the way we are going to vote — propelling the issue to systemic proportions. As it stands, we remain stuck in a vicious cycle where our individual rights and freedoms are slowly but surely becoming suppressed.
As society progresses, technology will increasingly become a digital extension of the self and to some degree, this is already happening. On an evolutionary timescale, the digital evolution is happening at a revolutionary pace. 30,000 years ago, we were nomads and 10,000 years ago we started building cities, yet it was only 30 years ago that computing started to become mainstream. Today, even the best technologists find it hard to predict what our society will look like just 10–20 years from now.
With all of my 427 apps, it is safe to say I am already merging with technology. As are we all. This “mutation” of humans as a species is happening at a pace unparalleled in the history of life on Earth. The issue we currently face is that Darwin didn’t account for such changes to our environment to happen at such dramatic speeds and therefore we need to start considering how we can adapt ourselves before we are but a digital memory. We have to plan for a benevolent merge with technology before we become completely controlled by it.
Today, we have real news and fake news, virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality and hyper-reality, just to mention some disciplines of our new technology. So what effect will these have on the human mind? You have probably seen someone in the street playing Pokémon Go and catching AR figures with a Pokéball. Now imagine someone running in the streets shooting imaginary monsters, or perhaps fake people. The thought of someone playing Grand Theft Auto in AR mode next to my kids going to school is not pleasant. As these technologies become more prevalent, it’s hardly a stretch to imagine that an increasing number of people will struggle to differentiate between what is real and what is not.
In order to help navigate the accelerating complexity of our digital landscape and stay sane in a world where it is becoming increasingly harder to distinguish between reality and fantasy, we will need digital helpers as a counterweight that can be referred back to in order to recentre ourselves. If you have seen the film “Inception”, you might better understand what I am referring to. You need to have a “Totem”, somethings that assures you: “this is reality” (wake up from your dream — are you still dreaming?).
Today, digital “butlers” are already commonplace in the form of Alexa, Siri, Bixby etc., all of which can be considered as “AI-as-a-service”. But regardless of how helpful they become in serving our every need, they will always have the goals of their bankrollers in the back of their artificial “minds”. They are already uniquely placed to influence what we want and, as such, shouldn’t truly be trusted. I am sure you have heard of, or maybe you have even experienced, a “digital coincidence”, where something that has recently been spoken about, within earshot of a digital assistant, suddenly begin to appear in your browser while you surf the internet. This is no coincidence, rather it is yet another demonstration that the business models behind these AIs-as-a-service will never allow them to fully align with you and your wishes. They will never fully want what you want as they will always need to serve other beneficiaries in addition to you.
So with AI becoming more prevalent in our day-to-day lives we need to train them in a way that ensures their AI’s goals align with those of society, but more importantly, with each individual as well. No two people are the same. In order to retain our individualism and freedom of choice (both of which are core pillars of digital integrity) and avoid becoming a slave to our consumer-driven digital helpers, it is essential that people are kept involved in the development stage of AI, and more specifically to “grow” their own. Among my 427 apps, I already possess some digital helpers and as they start cooperating better over time they will collectively form a stronger, personalized AI.
As individuals, we have to bridge our values into our AI’s algorithms and hope we can teach it to remain benevolent, before we lose control over it. A machine cannot think for itself and therefore needs to be rewarded and/or incentivized to suggest things or perform tasks that its programmed rules describe as being beneficial to its owner. Those rules need to be ingrained or trained using machine learning to, in essence, generate Big Data about us.
Because your bespoke AI, the digital extension of you, knows everything about you, it will need to be kept in a secure and private environment that you trust and only you control. After all, without privacy and the ability to vent our thoughts, the world will become a dangerous place. Without digital integrity that you know you can trust, free from hidden motives or commercial agendas, we will lose ourselves.
So, how do we change people’s behaviour in today’s society, and more importantly: in which direction should we nudge them?
Today, few things are able to influence or change people’s behaviour. Religion is slowly losing its control over people. Politics is being watered down by people’s growing contempt for power and greed and increasing polarization. People have shorter attention spans and in general read fewer books and newspapers, and the rise of fake news is intensifying.
Democracy and other ways of organizing society is ripe for renewal, but most of these systems are made of updated mechanisms which are slow to change. What’s more, the chance of consensus remaining the same long enough to create structural changes in the time-frame we have, while being faced by all of Earth’s challenges related to pollution, climate, population growth and privacy, are very slim.
Having worked with all aspects related to equity-based incentives (shares and options to employees) for more than 15 years, I am more than familiar with the success of harnessing this approach in influencing behaviour and inciting change. As a famous Confucian philosopher once said, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”. In today’s terms, I translate this to “pay me and I forget” (salaries), “give me bonuses and I might remember” (performance goals) and “make me partner” (shares and ownership) and I will understand. We learn by doing. By getting involved.
We have to change the money. Not in a dramatic way, but gradually.
How do we get people involved?
We cannot grant equity to all and most people won’t be offered shares, options or bonuses from their employer. Also, this approach can be hard to understand and complex to structure and manage. The entry-barrier to this sort of learning is too high.
Most people are more prone to taking the easy option and often resort to the mindset that we, as individuals, don’t have enough power to make a difference on our own. We don’t get involved. This is very similar to the powerlessness many feel with regards to the pollution problem and the climate challenges we are facing. How can an individual’s small actions make any difference?
This feeling of helplessness may in some cases stem from ignorance and perhaps even laziness, in which the ‘easy route’ is deemed to be going along with the masses, rather than pushing to drive change. Either way, there is no denying that the unequal distribution of power also comes into play.
How do we incentivize people to get involved. To care? To change behaviour and understand?
Access to the Internet is considered a human right by the UN. Digital participation should be interactive and individuals need to be empowered. I would therefore argue that we also need to make computing a human right and this is as important as financial participation.
This is where blockchain technology can really prove its worth, having been designed as a tool to help people empower themselves, removing the illusions of borders and levelling the playing field. Through transparency and privacy.
In addition to Friend, there are thousands of decentralized projects working in this direction today but, many, if not most, will fail — this was certainly the norm during the tech-boom in 1997–2001 and still is today. Decentralized ledger technology is now becoming more mainstream and those projects able to apply the right dose of intellect, wisdom, and the ability to incentivize individuals to make qualified and informed choices will survive.
Blockchain technology can give money direction and purpose. It can give full transparency and thus instigate trust where there is none.
I often refer to this as “nudging” whereby people are directed by the moral business compass set out by each project. But in order for these projects to thrive, we need, amongst other things: digital independence, transparency, ownership of own data, privacy, and enablement.
Individuals ultimately need to be given the choice over what data they share and what is kept private, and be rewarded accordingly. Understandably, offering high-grade privacy (encryption) and digital independence to the masses is not something that will be taken lightly by governmental and surveillance agencies around the world. I, however, am of the opinion that what we know and can openly debate can be managed, and that it is when we censor and deprive people of their freedoms, that we begin to increase risk. As billions of people come online, the infrastructure of the internet needs to become more transparent.
In which direction should we go?
Introducing the Earth Positive Pyramid
Whether we sit on the left or the right politically, the majority of us have already climbed to the highest heights of Maslow’s hierarchy pyramid. For a Norwegian like me, the last 40 years has been a triumphant transformation for the country and society, as it has transcended from being one of the poorest in Europe to one of the richest, happiest and best places to live in the World according to the Human Development Index. Most of our fortunes come out of our natural resources: oil, gas, fish and hydro-electric power.
A nouveau riche society, owing to our Oil and Gas related activities, I used to worry that, because we had such a big impetus from oil before, there would be an ingrained laziness when it came to innovation. In actual fact, because we have accumulated a lot of carbon debt as a nation, and Norwegians being a very out-doorsy people close to nature, there is a shared feeling of responsibility to invest in the development of projects that contribute to a better society. Luckily, our forefathers have ingrained a strong set of values into our society: a seemingly functional social democracy, a large sovereign wealth fund, a lack of foreign debt (and thereby independence), and a culture of transparency and freedom of expression. We enjoy our freedoms and independence and tend to be seen as benevolent to the rest of the world. Not perfect, but quite functional.
Today it has become more and more popular to fly around the world to talk about how to save it, simply by talking. Having had our basic needs met, and feeling the polarization of global politics, fake news and increasingly common challenges (pollution, climate, privacy etc.), I believe the time has come for us all to become more pragmatic in our approach, favouring concrete action over empty promises.
Society is progressing at an unprecedented pace and therefore it is only natural that so too is the way in which humans develop and are motivated. For those who are lucky enough to find ourselves towards the top end of the stages set out by Maslow in his Hierarcical pyramid of needs, it is time to begin looking onward to the next thing, going beyond the self and acknowledging the need for an i‘Earth Positive’ pyramid sat on top.
Directly above us, at the tip of the pyramid (yes, this pyramid is inverted -see below), we can position those closest to us (in my case my three children, my wife and my immediate family, as they are more important to me than myself).
Above this, we can place friends and close community, along with those people’s children and families. On top of that there are additional communities, People, Peoples and eventually all Humans in General.
Above this, animals, plants, oceans and the air above this . Finally we have Earth at the very top of the pyramid. That should be our focus, Compass and True North in all we do.
This Earth Positive Compass encompasses everything from a heightened awareness of our climate and the world in which we inhabit, to that of privacy and our digital rights.
Having traveled extensively all my life, and in particular over the last two decades, I have met people in many different industries, cultures and countries. I have noticed the rise in this ideology which transcends things like politics, religion and capitalism as well as the other issues we as humans have concocted which typically polarize opinion.
The Earth Positive Pyramid (as I see it)
There is today a clear polarization in society which is generating idealistic and angry people. Radicalization. The “motion” I believe we need to see, is pragmatism towards the middle and that transcends the individual’s Maslow Hierarcy of needs and focuses on more on the collective Earth Positive Compass guiding our thinking and actions. Sustainability. For all.
Note: To put it very simplistic, in case you wonder what the letters to the right and left are at the bottom. I apologize in advance if I offend anyone. I only generalize to make my point: no ranking and no finger-pointing. To the right of this Pyramid you have the extreme right (Alt Rights, the Haters, Neo-Nazi’s, the KKKs etc. in no particular order). To the left of the Pyramid you have the extreme left: the Lovers, but also the Revolutionaries, the Anarchists and more angry people.
The people in the middle are more pragmatic:
They Just Want It To Work.
While I don’t fully see eye-to-eye with him on a lot of things, I do agree with Elon Musk that we need a Plan B, or Planet B. But Mars is a long way off and it will take a long time before we can have a meaningful number of people there, let alone have millions of people safely migrate.
Therefore, we have to focus on fixing our current situation, Planet A, first. Using our Earth Positive compasses we can decide in which direction to focus our time and energy both as individuals and when working collaboratively.
Today, I would argue that the only commodity understood by all and which, at the same time, has the power to change people’s behaviour, is money. Some have enough, most have too little, and a few even have too much, so in order to instigate meaningful change on a global scale, we need to look into changing the money. What I mean by this is carefully restructuring various incentives, whether that is money, points, shares or tokens, so as to align their utility with the desires of each individual. I firmly believe that, if done in a responsible way, this is the only way to truly decentralize democracy and, ultimately, trigger the much-needed redistribution of power within our society.
We know that consumerism works and so should begin utilizing this to help nudge people into becoming more aware of the issues at stake. By empowering people with knowledge and gently incentivizing them into taking actions and making more involved and qualified choices we can collectively, albeit slowly, instigate lasting change in a way that is sustainable and beneficial for all.
Over thousands of years we evolved to straighten our backs and lift our gaze. In the last 30 years we have started to look down again, this time at our screens, accepting terms, agreeing to license agreements, unwittingly sharing our data by a click here and a click there. Obeying. This needs to end here, with us. We owe the next generation something better than a dying planet governed by monopolies that control access to information.
It’s time to straighten ourselves back up and begin looking beyond what is right in front of us and set our Compass towards a more Earth Positive future.
Oslo, Norway, 8th of June 2019
PS: Ideally, this should have been published on Earth Day 22nd of April. Please accept my apologies -I’ve been busy with Earth Positive Actions. DS