Why we need a global human/technology manifesto

It's not true to say society's heading for a technological disaster but we must keep our hands firmly on the wheel, says Ian Wood, senior partner at Lippincott.

The human factor of A.I.
The human factor of A.I.

The words ‘inadvertent algorithmic cruelty’ have been used to describe the phenomenon of technology hurting people by accident.

Does technology serve us, or are we sleep-walking into a future where we are the servers?

While we may have seen Facebook’s apology for its ‘Cruel Year in Review’, it is a tiny instance of a bigger problem and we probably all have our less high-profile anecdotes: a friend of mine has spent a year trying to convince Google Maps that she doesn’t live in a Bed and Breakfast. But computer says ‘No’.

Another gets social media invites from a person who passed away suddenly from cancer, with memories of their funeral still evoking strong feelings of loss and grief.

The human factor

More recently, we have seen the urban meme of ‘will the driverless car smash into the children in the road or mount the pavement to avoid them and hit the little old lady?’ a question so prevalent that it gets asked on the Top Gear TV show; these are all part of one meta-story.

Does technology serve us, or are we sleep-walking into a future where we are the servers?

But this story is not all new. Although the specific technology adds a new dimension, the possibilities and challenges are well rehearsed.

The industrial revolution brought about a massive and progressive expansion, but workers' conditions were often very poor, the countryside was evacuated and pollution chronic.

The advent of the railways enabled reduced prices, holidays, commuting, the mixing of gene pools and it broadened everyone’s worldview, but it enabled warfare on an industrial scale.

All technological progress delivers exciting possibilities and considerable human challenges

The defenders of the web

All technological progress delivers exciting possibilities and considerable human challenges; the connected world is no different, except that it is fast, global and touches everything and everyone. It’s the same problem but much, much bigger.

Tim Berners-Lee is calling for an Internet Magna Carta, Steve Wozniac, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking have all contributed, Nokia is facilitating a global debate called #maketechhuman and Web We Want is a global movement created to defend, claim and change the future of the Web. It is clear that the challenge is beginning to be recognised.

And if we wanted any more confirmation, then look no further than perhaps the strongest Hollywood theme for the last decade; Transcendence, Ex Machina and Her are just a few that take up the narrative of technological dominance or dystopia.

But what will it take to ensure we travel the road of humanity first and that the Hollywood dystopia doesn’t happen?

I believe we need three things:

A movement:

a solid groundswell of opinion, strongly expressed. A voice not confined to techies and niches, that helps create clear expectations. ‘Inadvertent algorithmic cruelty’ are weasel words for ‘the human in the loop prioritising marketing objectives over human feelings’.

After all, if it was right in the first place, Facebook wouldn’t have to apologise for it. Perhaps, to build on Sir Tim Berners Lee, we need a global human/technology manifesto.

A rethink of the human system that is the tech industry; a rebalance of genders and ethnicity with the tech community, the teaching of humanities to technologists, a means of automatically programming of human value into machines and much more.

In the era of increasingly human brands, to act otherwise is potentially catastrophic. Companies must recognise that this is a major debate and is a crucial part of the brand strategy.


in this increasingly purposeful world, people have the power to change social norms, usually through the application of adverse consequences (social comment, loss of business etc). On the scale of social change it wasn’t long ago that we could see pregnant women smoking, driving without seat belts and apartheid.


throughout all these worries, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the problems, but a connected world is a wonderful thing. It should help people thrive everywhere. We are not heading for disaster, we just need to keep our hands on the wheel.

We are at the start of the exploration of one of the principle questions of our age. We must reach somewhere good long before this decade is out.

In the era of increasingly human brands, to act otherwise is potentially catastrophic, and not to recognise that this is a major debate and that it must be part of brand strategy is put you brand at risk.


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