WiC: How do you envision the "techno-social systems" emerging in our industry from anthropological and sociological points of view?
LC: First some words of caution. Avoid distraction by momentarily flashy emergent technology and marketing hype. Reflect on the greed, controlling nature, siloed culture and social immaturity of the current tech industry, as witnessed in the Facebook debacle. Try to understand the panicky feelings triggered by books like How to Fix the Future and the apocalyptic AI warnings of Elon Musk. Read the insightful essay "Forget Killer Robots -- Bias Is the Real AI Danger" by John Giannandrea.
You'll then understand why Kentaro Toyama says in Geek Heresy that "technology alone won't change the world" and that we must instead "Rescue Social Change from the Cult of Technology."
How will this happen? First, thinkers in fields outside STEM will increasingly and computationally embed, commingle and evolve their fields' knowledge systems and impact. These social and humanistic forces will cross-colonize the underlying technologies in countless now unanticipated ways. As these vaster forces come into play, the tech industry will decreasingly "naively control" the unfolding of social futures.
As fields such as anthropology and sociology, ecology and economics, history and philosophy, design and the arts reframe themselves atop coevolving underlying technologies, they'll also help raise collective consciousness of the entangled nature of the resulting "techno-social systems."
Ecological and epidemic Processes are providing mathematical frameworks for partly modeling such techno-social dynamical-systems. As collective consciousnesses of our embeddings within such systems arise, a more widely-disciplined data-driven science will help us model and increasingly predict these systems behavior, much as we now model and predict the weather.
WiC: How can we make these systems ethical, diverse, adaptable and sustainable for the world as a whole?
LC: We must and create much wider awareness of the entangled techno-social nature of "things". Instead of just engineering "things," we must consciously prototype and engineer measurably diverse, adaptable, ethical and sustainable patterns for "using those things." Think of it as extending local "building-codes" to evolving regional "techno-social-system usage-codes."
The coming wave of change will rapidly spread new forms of cooperative capitalism, trigger major re-alignments in political economy and transmute the role of the city in history. This global process will be analogous to that described by Eugen Weber in Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914, only running faster and on a vaster scale.
The earlier social maturation of today's young people will make them sensitive to these emergent techno-social dimensionalities, and position many for leadership in the emerging Techno-Social Age. They can further enhance their future opportunities by following foundational work in fields like anthropology, sociology, ecology, economics, complex systems, and history. As Winston Churchill said, The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see."
The incoming wave of techno-social innovation has the stunning potential of reining-in our unsustainable over-use of planet earth, sustainably providing ever-increasing infrastructural functionality and life experiential-amplification per person, while consuming ever-decreasing energy and material resources per person. In parallel it will open up unprecedented explorations of what it's possible to create and experience. For this to sustainably unfold, we must motivate widespread cooperative generation, bootstrapping and sharing of encoded techno-social procedures for measurably doing ever-more with ever-less in diverse environments all around the world.
— Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms