What are the limits of pushing human potential through technology? And what are the trade-offs?

Contributed by Elise Valoe

What are the trade-offs of unlocking human potential or amplifying, augmenting humans through technology? How far do we push that and what do you have to give up to get there? So that's the final tension that I'm struggling in my head right now that through history, technology has automated things were humans have been displaced by jobs such as in factories and now we're at a point in history where artificial intelligence has the capability of automating or augmenting knowledge or workers or creative knowledge workers in the workplace. And what direction would we move in?

How many jobs would be displaced for creative knowledge workers? Or will we leverage AI and that advancement in technology to amplify their potential? So, I think it's interesting tension and after our trip yesterday to the different areas in Detroit with the empty factories, I was imagining is the future going to be empty office spaces? Those are factory spaces that were automated. Robots came in, humans left. How much of our work will be offloaded to automation? That's where my head is at right now.

I would say when we design experiences or environments, we look at the desirability—what the user needs or wants. Feasibility—is it technically possible to create that experience and viability? So obviously, being in the industry how can we make money off of that? Is there a demand in the market? And now thinking, also now adding ethics. So is it ethically correct to do such a design or in such a way? Are the ethics around for us to advance our design and make and let’s say, smart and connected spaces or spaces that can anticipate your needs? To do so you need lots of data collection in how spaces are currently being used. So how much data can we collect now? That’s the question of trade off. So if we want to move in the direction of augmenting creative knowledge workers, for us to anticipate their needs, we need to collect data now on the current situations. So would individuals allow us to collect that much data on what they’re doing?

If we already are questioning what our phones are gathering and the information of GPS or what we download, or what we buy, is it really right for us to go into the workplace, in personal project rooms and collaboration spaces to collect that data to advance? The end is to advance what we're doing but that’s once again, back to the tension.

Bringing it back to me would be, the teams that I build, the design thinkers that we bring in. We work with designers, anthropologists, material scientists, technologists, so is there now a need to bring philosophers to our team? So is that the combination or the recipe for the future of design?

We think a lot about design thinking and systems design and designing, not only cities but also organizations. That was I think, the last evolution of design but now I think the next is gonna be around ethical choices. So instead of design, working with the business school or design working with engineers and comp science, it’s now a designer working with philosophers.

Being a designer and believing in iteration and prototyping, to me I don't see any harm in trying at all. I think it's an interesting essential question of what new lenses need to be applied to the design process and it makes sense to me that someone that has more training on the ethical lens be brought on to teams. It would be amazing if other larger [04:36:00] west coast companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon would think of the same thing. Or maybe the first step is just seeing what design groups already have such a team member in place. Maybe it's not an original idea but I think it's a good solution to start with. I mean there is a reason why we have a philosopher downstairs sitting with a bunch of designers.

Data privacy and data collection. We spend probably most of our time during the day at work so that's a lot of data that can be collected on an individual. And I know I wouldn't want Samsung or Sony collecting information on me while I'm at home through my television, which is possible. Or [04:35:00] Comcast or a cable company collecting data from me while I'm at home. I personally wouldn't want my employer to be collecting that data on me while I'm at work but it seems that's the track that we're on.

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