[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]
Dr Yohko Hatada, founder and director of the Evolution of Mind Life Society Research Institute (EMLSRI), made a presentation exploring the role of information and communications technology (ICT) in the evolution of the human species. He gave an overview of the development of humanity, explaining how disruptive computing power has been in recent years. He related this evolution to current institutional mechanisms questioning whether market systems would guarantee human survival. Would current developments in artificial life dilute human power? Would cyborgs lead future civilisations? Was there a possibility of human cyber warfare?
Hatada described how competition and international power politics were directing evolution away from the person by giving human autonomy to technology platforms. He used the humanity, democracy, and symbioses (HDS) frame to explain how ICTs could aid human-dominated evolution and achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs). On humanity, he described how every human being needed to find their true passion in order to contribute to the betterment of society. Minorities, females, and people with different points of view ought to be incorporated into society because by having an identity, they could fully commit themselves to society. It was from sovereign humans that sovereign states were formed, hence democracy. Failure in international systems of democratic governance therefore result in a disconnect between personal and state sovereignty.
Human evolution is linked to digital revolution. Hatada explained how our ecosystem contains life and non-life components that are connected through information. Through DNA evolution, humans had created information. The evolution was purely natural where, for instance, neuro networks and decentralised nervous systems give sophisticated responses to our environment. These include language, music, ideology, mathematics, and communications, which are the basis of artificial life. Using the example of a self-driving car which has its own autonomy, he posited the question of how humans should respond to their new-found computing power. Should humans give up their sovereignty? What is their role in evolution?
In his view, technology’s role is to help every human achieve development. He reflected on how currently we measure this development through indices such as GDP, military might, and legal systems. Going back to his thesis that evolution begins with the person, he proposed using more inclusive measurements, such as education, growth and development, labour productivity, intergenerational equity, sustainability, inequality, and dependency ratios.
Dr Ansgar Koene, senior research fellow at the University of Nottingham, responded to his presentation by agreeing that competition could not guarantee everybody’s wellbeing and new systems were needed. He broached the subject of energy and international culture where scientific methods are being used to enhance human agency. He contrasted this with the commodification of the person on ICT platforms. Although technology was presented as solving human problems, it reduces the quality of life when it dehumanises the person. He therefore called for a paradigm shift in thinking about technology and human development, and invited the audience to think of other models, such as co-creation and co-evolution.
In response to questions from the audience, the presenters agreed that HDS was a new approach and an alternative to the current models that are competing to dominate the user and, in the process, ceding autonomy of the user to technology. They gave examples of Taiwan, Estonia, and Iceland where public entities are using technology to enhance people’s participation in governance. A merit of technology that was noted is that it has expanded our knowledge of humanity. There were past instances where societies had thrived, not by dominating others, but by creating groups where people could rely on each other in times of difficulty.
By Grace Mutung'u