In ever shorter intervals, digitization brings new trends to light that overwhelms us humans both at work and at home. IT businesses and media companies bombard us with phrases like Industry 4.0, Internet of Things (IoT), Smart Homes, Autonomous Driving, Artificial Intelligence (AI) – well-known synonyms that pitch new feel-good technologies nowadays that intend to make hard routine work easier and more convenient.
What these new "feel-good economy" promises people as well is more independence from other people: click instead of social communication, swipe instead of thinking. For instance, clicking on the Facebook thumbs subjectively provides a growing attitude to life, increases the individual lifestyle and, above all, optimizes more and more areas of life: optimized shopping, optimized work and optimized lifestyle. But all this has consequences as well, for instance, pressure on individuals will continue to increase in the future, since it is all about gradually optimizing yourself to be able to contribute to the future value chain. And many might start to fear not to be able to keep up, therefore, looking for “true happiness” among family, friends and social networks instead. Such behavior can already be observed in the age group of 15 to 25-year-old: retreat instead of progressive thinking, giving up prematurely instead of proactive action, pessimism instead of constructive optimism.
The fact is that people's uncertainty is obviously growing, asking themselves questions like: “Will I keep my job in the future? What do our children's jobs look like? What skills will I need in the future? What do I have to study today for the future?”. Questions like these lead to powerlessness because they are always looking for answers that aren’t easy to find: “What understanding does our society have for the future relationship between humans and machines? Can I really entrust my areas of life to new technologies? Do I trust my home and work robots? Which jobs should be substituted by AI?” or similar questions are definitely not easy to answer. Usually, it takes a lot of time, a good deal of reflectivity, and sometimes a situational sense of suffering (illness, burn-out, depression) to make people critically question what they really need.
However, a speaking toaster, an autonomously ordering refrigerator or any other technological innovation, most probably won’t lead to a fulfilling and happy life. The profit thinking of digital businesses hushes up and suppresses critical and digital ethical questions that they themselves cannot answer. So, people have no choice but to withdraw into a world that they control, that they shape with their abilities and in which they can experience their self-efficacy. This experience of effectiveness of one's own actions leads to a noticeable feeling of happiness in everyday life.
Where machines and software reduce this experience of effectiveness, humans degenerate into an analog command recipient of their algorithms and that simply calls for real digital business ethics, since human skills, such as creativity or intelligence, are threatened. Important is to find a middle ground between the extremes of a fully digitized world and a categorical renunciation of new technical developments. In short, each of us needs to answer the question of how we can best shape our future in a humane way using technology, simply because embedding ethical AI into every business step and decision is vital to become an AI-ready enterprise.
By Daniela La Marca