Singularity University NL Ethics and Exponential Technologies Meetup

The effect of the digital age and exponential technology on analog human beings with Gerd Leonhard and Singularity University

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Gerd Leonhard at Singularity University NL Meetup at Artis Zoo

This week I attended the Singularity University NL Meetup on Ethics and Technology, hosted partially in Artis Zoo in Amsterdam and partially at the Freedom Labs Campus across the road.

The guest speaker for the evening was futurist Gerd Leonhard who got us warmed up with a thought-provoking presentation on our relationship with technology. His perspective is that the future as we always imagined it has caught up with us. Technology is developing at an exponential rate, leaving us behind with our physical limitations.

There has recently been a lot of doom and gloom in the media about the rapid advance of technology and Leonhard would like to replace that fear of the unknown with curiosity. But without ensuring our ethics and values have a place in this future, he maintains, we cease to be a functioning society. He challenges us to consider what will happen to our ethics, morals and values when machine processing power exceeds the thinking capacity of all of humanity.

In my opinion, our ethics and values need an upgrade to keep pace with recent shifts in social structure and power. I think our current value systems are rooted in the past and are being invalidated. The change cycle of our moral code is too slow to keep up with our changes. We need to take a giant leap in our moral thinking to catch and keep up with our current rate of development.

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Slides can be found here on slideshare

The next topic that came up in Leonhard’s talk was transferring our consciousnesses through neural scanning into machines. Consider this – when a human being becomes disembodied, does it lose its humanity? Will our current high and increasing exposure to machines cause us to start thinking like machines because it will be easier, more efficient? Apparently, the younger generation prefers to deal with machines rather than human beings because they are more predictable. Are these the signs of the decline of our society, losing touch with ourselves and each other, or the birth pangs of Society 3.0 where physical barriers are transcended?

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Our charming venue at Artis Zoo

The presentation ended with a question-and-answer round, after which we hiked across the road to the Freedom Lab Campus for our break-out sessions on Manufacturing, Government and Law, Business and Management, Education, Society, Individuals, Nature and the Environment, Security and Finance.

I joined the discussion group about the Individual because I wanted to explore what impact technology could have on our identity. Here are some interesting points we discussed:

  • What happens to the individual as technology makes us more connected?
    • We get further away from each other in terms of rich connections as we get more and more contacts and exposure, losing the human touch, becoming less significant.
    • We equally gain individual power and freedom because the internet is an equaliser, now one individual can start a revolution.
    • Not every individual is capable of making a big impact.
    • All levels of participation in society serve a purpose – there are leaders and followers and both are equally necessary.
    • Knowing how many more amazing people there are out there creates a lot of pressure to be unique and original or not to participate at all.
    • Realising that everyone is just like you, there are no new ideas under the sun, everything has been thought of before, can liberate the individual and lower the threshold to try to make a difference.
  • How does the concept of self evolve as we become more digital and augmented?
    • Perhaps we will share consciousness with computers and eventually with each other through digital means, forming a collective consciousness and collective self – we instead of I. Two heads are better than one.

This was a really rich Meetup from the Singularity University team, up to their usual standards. Although I disagreed with some points in Gerd Leonhard’s presentation, it definitely challenged my thinking, which is what I had hoped for. I equally hope to challenge your thinking and look forward to hearing any comments you might have on these topics. What relationship do you want to have with technology in coming years? Is the exponential advance a good thing? Do we need to control technology or upgrade our own software to take the next step? Be an Individual, just like me, and have your say 😉

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