The collapse of context and the elimination of friction…

As our physical and digital worlds increasingly converge the process by which we give meaning to our collective experiences (i.e. sensemaking) are undergoing profound shifts.

More and more of our time is being spent in a parallel digital universe where physical distance, time, culture, identity, and context collapse.

Digital sight, sound, and language become the primary ways in which we apply our 5 human senses in an attempt to navigate and make sense of this virtual world.

This digital environment is being shaped by transnational organisations, algorithms and our behaviours, which interact through complex feedback loops to present a personalised version of reality for “people like us”.

Our attention has become the economy, we are the product, data is the new oil and new forms of hyper and surveillance capitalism have emerged that benefit from network effects, algorithms, artificial intelligence (AI), automation and prediction.

The promise of this digital utopia has been anchored in making our lives “easier & simpler” by “removing the friction” in everything we do.

Our mobile phone has become the “remote control” for managing our life.

Emerging technologies such as bots, AI, apps, voice search, and the blockchain are seen as ways of extracting any remaining “friction” from the “customer experience” thereby further streamlining, automating & optimising our interactions.

The US Editor of The Financial Times and a former anthropologist – Gillian Tett – recently raised the issue of a digital “context collapse” and the importance of ancient rituals and shared physical experiences in providing both personal & collective meaning.

She notes that whilst these digital technologies at times feel wildly liberating, they can also be terrifying & disorienting.

A quote:

Adding to this, Oxford lecturer and author Rachel Botsman has spoken extensively about the nature and importance of Trust to a well functioning modern society and how digital environments alter this.

She has eloquently and succinctly defined Trust as a:

At its core are the elements of “relationship” – a concept anchored in humanity – and “unknown” – a reflection of the uncertain nature of reality

She believes “friction” is essential for us to be able to demonstrate we are “trustworthy”.

To become “trustworthy” it requires 4 human traits to be present:

  • Competence – The How?
  • Reliability – Responsiveness, consistency and time (How?)
  • Benevolence – Do you care? (Why?)
  • Integrity (Why?)

Our human relationships, behaviours and time are essential for both the How? and the Why?.

As we make the accelerated leap into digital platforms, networks, AI and even digital trust (blockchain) it will raise some profound issues.

UK Nesta CEO, Geoff Mulgan has raised similar emerging issues around the adoption of AI.

In thinking about ethics in the context of AI, our initial response seems to be anchored in a desire to simplify complexity and prescriptively “codify” a series of “algorithmic principles” or “rules” for areas such as bias, privacy, safety, transparency, explicability, truth etc…

In closing, US Rice University Computer Science Professor Moshe Vardi recently asked an important question in these colliding worlds:

A question that is becoming more apparent as every day goes by….

Innovation, Intrapreneurship, Entrepreneurship, Complexity, Leadership & Community Twitter: @complexityvoid

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