Our focus is to help people develop analogue leadership in a digital world
Over the past three years our Intersticia Foundation has been slowly identifying and supporting a diverse group of people as they pursue their chosen endeavours, whether this be through formal academic study, play-writing at Bell Shakespeare, leadership courses or film-making. We are now at the point of expanding our activities, and planning for our initial Retreat in London in the summer of 2018 when we will bring our Intersticia Fellows together as a group.
It is therefore timely for us to more fully articulate our aims and objectives as an organisation and place a stake in the ground in terms of what we are hoping to achieve, and how we intend to do so.
When we launched the Foundation I had a conversation with John O’Neil about the changing nature of human society, and, in particular, the role that science and technology is playing in determining that future. As someone who lives in California and has worked closely with tech companies for many years John understands the challenge, and from our conversation he challenged me to build a fellowship of individuals who had the potential to grow into true leaders in their own chosen fields, but would appreciate the need to contribute more broadly.
At John’s Good Life Seminar in Cavallo Point, Sausalito, I had time to think about this further as I sat bathed in the Californian sunshine surrounded by a fascinating group of individuals, most of whom were connected in some way to the tech world. A number were venture capitalists, some were technologists, an economist and a smattering of others from a range of backgrounds, but all were there to take time out and just think. John’s Good Life is based on the Aspen Institute model which aims to create a space within which thinkers, leaders, artists, and musicians from all over the world to step away from their daily routines and reflect on the underlying values of society and culture.
The discussion was guided by readings which focused on leadership and learning, and as I listened I realised that my own personal goal was to more fully understand what skills a true digital leader will likely require for the coming decades, and then utilise the resources at my disposal – including my knowledge, networks, energy and our Foundation – to help people that I meet as I travel through life develop themselves.
What follows as our Manifesto is a permanent beta, it is a work in progress and ever changing, but it serves to guide us in what we are doing and help articulate this to others.
Humanity is at a crossroads
We are no longer just the physically weak, but intelligent, biped that emerged from the savannah to spread to the four corners of the Earth. Through our larger brains, superior communication skills and ability to co-operate, we have moulded and manipulated our physical environments to best suit our immediate needs, creating what scientists are calling the “Anthropocene Epoch”[i] – a geological period where Homo Sapiens are the first species that is having a planetary-scale impact, and is aware of that reality.
Having done this we are now loosening the shackles of our analogue selves, defined and grounded within the physical environment, and beginning to explore the realms of becoming something much more powerful – what it is like to become a God.[ii]
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. (Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law)
As a species we have always sought to shape the world around us, whether it be by burning grasslands, damming rivers, cutting canals or building cities.
Before the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, where reason was deemed to be the primary source of authority and legitimacy[iii] , human thought in many parts of the world was dictated by
the demands of religious orthodoxy (which) passed through a period of inflated hopes for mystical or magical short-cuts to the universe’s secrets (and therefore of the means to transmute base metals into gold, to secure immortality or at least longevity and eternal youth, and the like). (A. C. Grayling) [iv]
Largely as a result of the work of Descartes and his contemporaries, Western thinking, and the mindset it created, has become increasingly dualistic[v] in terms of how it understands mind and body, the spiritual and the physical, and the mystical and the scientific.
Our success as a species[vi] has very largely resulted from this because we have used our science to enhance our core capabilities through building machines with which to increase our power and run our worlds.
As Professor Michio Kaku has said, science builds empires[vii] and these machines come in many forms which include:
The language, laws and customs which have facilitated the growth and development of human social systems, leading to
The intellectual machineries of bureaucracy upon which our Leviathan[viii] of governance and administration rely;
The physical mechanical devices which have enabled agriculture, transportation, and the physical shaping of our factories and cities;
The biological devices which we use to manage our bodies, even to the point of life and death;
The emotional twentieth century phenomenon of the capitalist marketing machine underpinned by our understanding of psychology;
The network of our connectography[ix]enabled by our physical and digital interactions.
In combination these have produced a world of unprecedented commodity[x] and information[xi] abundance, where those with the means can acquire almost anything, at any time from almost any place, and our value as humans has become the power of our consumption.
But this is not enough. Having shaped the world around us, we are now seeking to reshape ourselves.
For thousands of years history was full of technological, economic, social and political upheavals. Yet one things remained constant: humanity itself. … However, once technology enables us to reengineer human minds, Homo sapiens will disappear, human history will come to an end and a completely new kind of process will begin. (Yuval Noah Harari)
As with all things in life, nothing comes for free.
For millennia Homo Sapiens has been sleep-walking to the place where we are now, with scant regard for the costs of our ingenuity in the broader sense. The 21st Century presents us with the consequences of our cleverness[xiii] as we begin to recognise the environmental, ecological and societal ramifications[xiv] of our evolutionary success. The future is going to bring changes to how all animals live through changing disease patterns, migration and resource scarcity.
In addition, building on the ideas and concepts that have been quietly brewing for centuries, the current Information Age is now radically transforming every aspect of human activity. Some, such as Kevin Kelly, believe this is because there is an inevitability to the path of technological development, where every component of our physical existence will be enhanced with “X”[xv] where X represented the power of information technologies to harness and exploit the power of data and information[xvi].
This is only just the beginning. Our digital tools are helping us understand and unravel the mysteries of the biological world (through the Human Gemone[xvii] and Connectome[xviii] projects), the nano-worlds at atomic scale, and the quantum world[xix], where, like us, the analogue experience is not on or off, but a myriad of realities in between, sometimes simultaneously.
The emergence of the Social Machine
Where does all of this come from? It comes from the actions, queries, thoughts and comments of everyday people and their interactions with each other, with the world around them, and, increasingly, with the technological devices which are grafted on to their bodies in one way, shape or form. This is at the core of the Social Machine, where the machine does the administrative work, and the humans do the creative work[xx]. Those who understand this[xxi] have built increasingly powerful Social Machines which encourage and enable us to participate online, and, with our tacit support, they harvest what we teach them in order to build even smarter machines which now build their descendents[xxii], increasingly without our input or awareness. This iterative loop has enabled our Data Lords (who are predominantly white Caucasian males[xxiii]) to create unprecedented amounts of wealth for themselves and those within their ecosystems [xxiv] whilst also exacerbating the disparity in global equality between the “have” and “have nots”[xxv]. At the most fundamental level the extreme wealth and prosperity that has been created is the result of capitalism and the value systems which underpin it. These include both a dependence on growth and an expectation of profit fueled by an increasingly short-term focus on outcomes.
More and more people are seeing this as an unsustainable economic approach because, as Zuboff says Capitalism should not be eaten raw[xxvi]. In its raw form Capitalism treats everything, including the humans, as inputs to be exploited and harnessed for economic growth.
In previous generations humans were valued for their physical labour in the fields, their usefulness as military foot-soldiers, as factory workers and, more recently, as office workers. But, as our technologies mature the potential scenario of the technological displacement[xxvii] of human workers by machines is becoming a realit. It may be that entire new industries and jobs are created, as has happened after previous technological revolutions[xxviii], but this current round of disruption will result in a radical redefinition in the concept of work itself and the relationship between humans and the economy[xxix]. One initiative, the concept of the Universal Basic Income[xxx], which fundamentally pays humans to be humans, is now on the public agenda[xxxi]. A major problem with this is that it stems from a pre-digital mindset which doesn’t factor in new and emerging currencies. The mega digital companies of the twenty first century have exploited personal data to grow, but the value of personal data extends beyond social media to the physical world. One example is that of Pavegen[xxxii] which has developed smart floor-tiles which convert the human kinetic energy of walking to electricity which can both feed into a grid. In addition, the Pavegen App captures personal energy creation and can be converted in to a new form of currency. The UBI doesn’t address the fundamental challenge of “purpose” which humans seem to find so necessary in life, so, one idea could be that instead of paying humans just to “be” they are encouraged to participate more on their communities through some sort of National Service kind of scheme which places a value on their time, energy, resources and skills.
All of these ideas need to be explored sooner rather than later because the other emerging form of inequality is that of human capabilities themselves. The rapid development of work in the sphere of human-enhancement, bio-engineering and synthetic biology, nano-engineering, medicine and prosthetics, means that the potential to create different classes of humans with different ranges of augmented characteristics and capabilities is becoming a reality[xxxiii]. This is what underpins the Transhumanist movement[xxxiv], a global philosophy which goes as far back in human history as the stories of Gilgamesh[xxxv], Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein[xxxvi], and the Alchemists[xxxvii] who all sought to achieve immortality through conquering nature. Our science and technology is now beginning to have a profound effect on what it actually means to be a human.[xxxviii]
This is all happening within a very brief timeframe, and, whilst we may have an abundance of some things – information and physical commodities – we also have a scarcity of others such as time, attention[xxxix], and social cohesion. In many places people feel that their sense of community has been eroded, to be replaced by online and virtual networks which are offering a whole host of new and challenging opportunities to create an experience economy[xl]. Increasingly people are feeling that time is speeding up, that they don’t time to process and that life if rushing by[xli] , and some think the internet is just as addictive as other forms of recreation.[xlii]
Stone Age emotions and Medieval institutions[xliii]
Governments, and people in general, have been both ignorant and näive in passively allowing this to happen, but it seems that we are beginning to wake up[xliv]. Australia was one of the first to embrace the concept of Open Government through opening up public data sets[xlv]. Both the UK and European Parliaments are experimenting with how to ethically manage and approach data[xlvi] but they are way behind the commercial world in addressing the design ethics[xlvii] underlying information systems as a whole, including the algorithms, analytics and visualisations that drive human interaction (see blog from the Web Science Ethics Symposium, July 2016[xlviii] ).
The European Parliament has begun to challenge the dominance of platform companies[xlix], even though their powers are limited[l], and it could be too little, too late[li]. Whereas in the past monopolistic companies such as IBM, AT&T and Xerox had their wings clipped or were broken up, the reality is that in the digital age few politicians and bureaucrats understand the information world enough to know what to do. Information technologies are becoming ubiquitous and, as with other general purpose technologies, are disappearing from view[lii].
The promise of the digital world was to empower people through advocacy and knowledge, but the truth is that power has been amassed through surveillance[liii] because the technologies are designed to exploit our innate need to connect and share. We have become addicted to our gadgets[liv]. As they become more sophisticated so we increasingly rely on them to the point where we are outsourcing our memories, our knowledge[lv], our day to day decisions, and even our own evolution[lvi] to systems and processes that we actually don’t fully understand[lvii]. We are allowing ourselves to be passively guided by the systems we have built, together with the values and objectives of the commercial entities that underpin them[lviii], most of which are US Silicon Valley based corporations[lix].
In previous generations we relied on those who represented us in positions of power and influence to protect the greater good but the reality is that few of our elected or appointed leaders have any background in science and/or technology, and those few are so preoccupied with the human business of power-dynamics, game-playing and everyday politics that they have precious little time to stand back and really consider the big questions[lx].
Building smart humans
The interstice is the space between, and Intersticia has always worked in these spaces where things are ill-defined, there is an abundance of possibility and opportunity, but there can also be confusion and fear.
When one door closes another opens, but the corridors can be a real bitch!
We are currently in that corridor where we are still anchored in our analogue past, where our minds are connected to our bodies which are themselves rooted in the physical world. But we are beginning to get a glimpse of what life in alternative spaces might look like, and some, such as Elon Musk, believe that what we perceive as “reality” may, in fact, be far from it.[lxi]
As we move from one human embodiment to another perhaps what is most important is to hold on to the central aspect of ourselves, what innately makes us human.
There is a word in Sanskrit, svadha[lxii] which means self-positioning, or self-power[lxiii]. Just as philosophers over the ages have sought to help us know ourselves, so our greatest challenge is emerging because the reality is that
authority is shifting away from humans to algorithms because algorithms are getting to know us better than we know ourselves. (Yuval Noah Harari)[lxiv]
More and more of our lives is being outsourced to our machines, and as we do this, how do we determine the essence of what it is to lead a good life, both individually and for humanity as a whole?[lxv] If there is an inevitability about where technologies seem to be heading then how do we decide what sort of future we want, before it is decided for us[lxvi].
Analogue Leadership for a digital world
Throughout history leaders have emerged[lxvii] to help navigate through unchartered waters, and our era is no different. What is different is that the rate of change is exponential rather than linear, determined and driven by computer rather than human time – time is now one of our most precious commodities.
What is required now, more than ever, is to draw on the lessons of history combined with the wisdom embodied within our communities, to take stock, and perhaps slow things down a little[lxviii].
We still have time but we need to understand what is happening. – this is what humankind will try to achieve in the 21st century, not necessarily what it will achieve.
As a starting point various organisations around the world are addressing precisely these challenges.
An existential risk is one that threatens the existence of our entire species. The Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) is a joint initiative founded by a philosopher, a scientist, and a software entrepreneur as a multidisciplinary research centre dedicated to the study and mitigation of risks that could lead to human extinction.
To catalyse and support research and initiatives for safeguarding life and developing optimistic visions of the future, including positive ways for humanity to steer its own course considering new technologies and challenges.
Has a mission to shed light on crucial considerations for humanity’s future whilst making the greatest positive difference.
The K&L Gates Endowment for Ethics and Computational Technologies at Carnegie Mellon University[lxix]
The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at Cambridge University, which aims to examine the morality and governance of AI by “bringing together the best of human intelligence so that we can make the most of machine intelligence”.[lxx]
In addition the Atlantic Centre for Leadership and Inequality at the London School of Economics[lxxi] aims to build a global community of leaders dedicated to changing policy, practice and public dialogue around inequalities[lxxii] and the Singularity University, which aims to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges[lxxiii], focus on developing individuals.
Largely these organisations are research based, and that research should be leveraged to inform decisions about our communities and how we live in them. Governments need to draw on this work, but governments are notoriously slow to integrate new ideas and even slower to innovate new solutions. They operate on human and organizational time, whereas the digital world is operating on computer time. Many private sector organisations have the agility and flexibility to move quickly, hence the rise of start ups and social enterprises which can emerge quickly and disrupt both incumbent companies and entire industries.
Digital disruption at its core changes the relationship between individuals and organisations – citizens (with government), customers (with companies) and clients (in the social sector). All sectors are struggling to come to grips with this particularly as the Social Machine itself keeps evolving and changing shape. It’s next big leap will be that into the physical world with the Internet of Everything.
However one sector, that of Philanthropy, by definition, means having a love for humanity[lxxiv] (from Greek ???????????) in the sense of caring, nourishing, developing, and enhancing what it means to be human”.[lxxv] Philanthropy – which includes the Charity Sector, Not for Profits, Social Business and Social Enterprise, Foundations and individuals who act philanthropically, is the most flexible, agile and innovative sector with society because it is voluntary, it is based on one human beings willingness to hep another, and because it can operate outside of established rules and processes to determine what success looks like. This comes down to understanding some of the deepest drivers within the human psyche, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, from the most fundamental need for safety and security to need to love and be loved.[lxxvi] Trying to measure and manage this is what is driving the current “Impact” movement, and it is a space full of complexity and complication, just like the human experience itself.
In order to put the humans first within the Social Machine environment they need a sector who will work from their perspective, not its own. This is the greatest challenge for Twenty First Century Philanthropy, to decide our identity.
Intersticia and our Fellowship
This manifesto needs to be read with this in mind, but also the particular context within which we, as Intersticia, exist.
We have, over the past three years, been thinking about the particular role we can play within this dynamic and challenging environment. Whilst we are only a small organization with limited resources, we do have a unique set of capabilities at our disposal.
We underpin all of our activities with the values of authenticity, integrity, persistence and courage, and take inspiration from the International Committee of the Red Cross[lxxvii] in terms of the fundamental principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence and universality.
Our collective experience lends itself to working with emerging leaders through the contribution of our time, energy, networks and experience to finding and supporting individuals who have both the willingness and the capability to grow into the type of leaders that humanity desperately needs.
Old worlds and new – Australia is home to the world’s oldest continually surviving culture which has a unique understanding of survival and symbiosis with the land; it is also home to one of the newest nations on Earth where people from all over the globe have come to settle and make new lives. They have brought with them their cultures, knowledge and values and as a new nation Australia has to both enable and empower them to contribute to the “common wealth” whilst not losing its own identity. We have much to learn from the uniqueness of this position and much to share with others, and as Australians reaching out globally we believe we can embrace a world of perspectives within a safe, yet challenging, learning environment.
The tyranny of distance[lxxviii] – distance, both physical and virtual, can be both a benefit and a curse. A recent comment by a senior bureaucrat about Australia is that there is a ten year gap between what happens in Australia and other places in the world due to both our economic reliance on physical resources, as well as the our own unique history. This distance is something many in Australia have sought to diminish, and in the connected world is eroding, but it is also something we could benefit in terms of perhaps taking time to reflect on the experience of other countries before rushing to change what we have.
Technology, Science and Culture – this is the world of Web Science, the Arts and the Polity through Government, and we have many networks and relationships to leverage for collective wisdom and knowledge.
Archetypes of societies – all societies have a fundamental archetype, for example the youth of the “New World” (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) versus the “old Man” of Europe with which we are most familiar. But what about the tribal nations of Africa, Asia and the Middle East? And what of the many ancient cultures which still exist on the fringes? Through our networks and conversations we can bring these diverse viewpoints together to contribute to learning.
Demographic links which transcend age, education and background and the opportunity to find common language, goals and aspirations regardless of where we come from historically. People can stay at home and find other like minds globally[lxxix] and collaborate as never before, but this is balanced by those who are forced to be on the move due to climate change, conflict and resource depletion. What is crucial is the ability to have a truly global perspective, relinquishing historic or tribal links to territory and realising that the future of the planet needs access to all of the resources in a sustainable way.
We cannot boil the ocean, but we can direct our resources in order to find the maximum leverage points which will lead to maximum impact.
So, what does “Impact” look like for us?
As a start it focuses on helping young leaders step up embrace their role and responsibilities to help meet humanity’s biggest challenges. They are going to need a number of capabilities and resources which include:
being driven by a willingness to serve towards humanity’s greater good[lxxx];
grounding themselves and appreciating the innate qualities of what it is to be a human in the physical world;
being open to, discovering, and harnessing the power and potential of information in all its forms through seeing the world through the eyes of data. Our world is information[lxxxi] and it is information that has always driven human society;
leveraging this knowledge to create their own digital presence in order to reflect their values, aspirations and philosophies and through this connect with others through networks and communities;
working in the interstice between technology and society, which means understanding the societal implications of emerging technologies, whilst simultaneously appreciating and anticipating the potential for disruption and change;
crafting and facilitating meaningful conversations and dialogue within both online and offline social systems in order to educate, empower and enable others to navigate the world of exponential change, to step up and take charge in circumstances where others may be fearful or uncertain;
emotional resilience developed through the experience of pushing boundaries, overcoming obstacles and seeking innovative solutions;
and, perhaps most importantly,
learning how to learn, and through that, the ability to teach others;
So, how can we find them and then what do they need?
The most important element is that we seek out and find individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds to achieve a:
Mix of disciplines
Mix of aspirations
Mix of cultures
Mid of viewpoints
Mix of power
They may come to us through the networks and referrals of our existing Fellows, by accident, or through strategic partners who we identify share some of our common values and aspirations.
We need to create a safe action-learning space – online, offline, through our retreats and workshops – through both our interactions with them, and with each other, which brings each participant in to the interstice between technology, culture and society. This may be uncomfortable for some, but a key part of our role is to support them in this process, and empower them to do likewise with others.
We must not limited to “traditional” funding models, mindsets and channels and we will utilise all of our resources and channels to support the right people in the right way.
We will focus on helping our Fellows create a currency and brand for themselves based on their knowledge, reputation, aspirations and networks, and assist them in leveraging that brand as leaders in whatever they seek to do.
We will develop our own leadership model based on the core values we espouse, namely common sense and good manners.
We recognise that the leaders required for the world that is emerging are bottom-up and not top-down. There is no democracy in the digital world as yet,[lxxxii] it is in many ways a final frontier on the planet which is being colonised by the frontier mentality of winner take all. This will eventually change, but not before other more radical issues arise, but the need to set the foundations of a socio-economic and socio-technical model that has the robustness to underpin the emerging next phase is crucial.
We need to work towards supporting a truly global and boundaryless society whilst also recognising, honouring, acknowledging and celebrating the diversity that exists between individual human beings grounded by their own historical and cultural backgrounds.
Beyond creating the framework we must not over-define what the Fellowship is and how it operates but rather let our Fellows determine its nature and direction through their contributions and collaboration.
We have begun this already and now have the following initiatives in place:
The Rowland Scholarship at Goodenough College[lxxxiii], London
The Intersticia Fellowship Retreat. All of our Intersticia Fellows are encouraged to attend the Foundation’s first Leadership Workshop which will be held at Goodenough College, London from 25th June to 1st July, 2018.
Moving on from this core activity we have a number of other initiatives in place which complement the development and growth of our Fellowship:
Research and development of Digital Transformation programmes with New Philanthropy Capital, UK[lxxxv]
Development and delivery of workshops focusing on “Digital Literacy” with both government and not for profit organisations globally
Working with Angie Abdilla to support her project entitled “Traditional Knowledge Combats Climate Change”[lxxxvi] and her work with Old Ways, New.
Plus, other initiatives which our Fellows are slowly beginning to bring forth.
Walking the Talk
A leader is one who takes the hardship of finding a better way of doing things for the common good and then selflessly shares the knowledge with others by guiding them on that path. (Avijit Dutta)
This Manifesto is very much a Work in Progress, and it will evolve over time as our thinking matures, and as our Fellows contribute more to what Intersticia stands for and the activities it undertakes.
We hope to lead by example and contribute our thought leadership to the greater philanthropic conversation both in Australia and globally, so that this great area of human generosity and activity can truly take its place as a shaper of what we are, as well as what we can become.
[xvi] A useful framework around the affordances and properties of information in digital form is that articulated by Shoshana Zuboff in The Support Economy http://www.shoshanazuboff.com/new/books/the-support-economy/
[xxxiii] Harari, Homo Deus (http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/books/homo-deus-a-brief-history-of-tomorrow-by-yuval-noah-harari-review-a3340486.html). Describes this, but also it is a clear outcome of where many Transhumanists see humanity heading, see Zoltan Istvan, US Presidential Candidate’s The Transhumanist Wager (http://www.transhumanistwager.com/)