The quiet town of Cortez sits in the southwestern corner of Colorado. With a population of less than 10,000, Cortez is less famous and not as flashy as Denver, Aspen, or Telluride.
But if you ever visit Cortez, it’s worth your time to drive south on Highway 491, then west on Highway 160. After a short jaunt off the highway, you will arrive at one of the most fascinating tourist attractions in the United States.
The Four Corners Monument is the only place in the United States where four states (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico) converge into a single point. If you sit in the middle of the giant seal that marks the spot, with your legs spread out and leaning back on your hands, you can literally be in four places at once.
This geographical marker is a good metaphor for this moment in time. We stand at a great convergence point where technology, trade, and world events have forced us to decide the pathway we will take. People throughout history have always faced decisions, but this is different. The next decade represents a critical point for humanity where we must decide how we will relate to technology and what our pathway forward will be as humans.
We have to make sure that, as Business Artists, we don’t get lost in the chaos of the modern world. In this post, I’ll share three visions for our collective future, naturally arguing for the pathway of the Business Artist. It is the only viable way forward if we want to retain our true humanity and creative potential.
Vision One: The Path of Techno-Humanism
You may not have heard the term techno-humanism before. Yuval Noah Harari talks about the concept in his book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. The term refers to the merger of humans with technology to keep pace with the power of algorithms. Instead of using technology or submitting to it, we become it.
This is already happening. The United States Army is developing a device called an “attention helmet.” It would send electrical signals to specific parts of the brain to help soldiers concentrate better for extended periods. This would make specialized soldiers, such as snipers or drone operators, as dependable as algorithms.
The types of technological upgrades available will, of course, reflect our political and economic needs. Considering our current tensions with China and Russia, as well as the current war in the Middle East, these will surely be in flux over the coming years. The attention helmet is currently getting funding because it has clear military applications.
We will continue to see some elements of humans merging with technology. In the last few years, wearable tech, such as Apple watches or Fitbits, has become commonplace. But when it’s taken to an extreme, techno-humanism robs the essence of our humanity. As we’ve already talked about, empathy and human connection are essential to the pathway of the Business Artist.
Vision Two: The Path of Dataism
The second vision differs from the first, although they feel the same on the surface.
Both visions involve a future where we depend on technology more and more. Whereas techno-humanism represents a merging of humans and technology, dataism represents a future where we leave our hands in the fate of data. It’s a bit more nihilistic, perhaps even dystopian, when taken to its logical conclusion.
Dataism basically says that we should step aside and let algorithms just do their thing. Everything that exists is either a data processing system or an algorithm. It doesn’t matter if it’s the position of the sun, someone’s political stance, or your lover’s broken heart. It’s all just data.
In addition, dataism does not see humanity as a fundamental, unique concept in the universe. It sees humans as computers that process data. We take in information and use that data to make decisions. Even something simple like shopping for groceries depends on your hunger, the weather, the time, your budget, the locations of stores in your area, or other factors. It’s all data that factors into your eventual actions.
According to this perspective, history is just a process where we manufacture ever-improving data processing systems. Consequently, it’s our duty as humans to build more efficient algorithms to process all this data.
However, perhaps we should not leave our fate in the hands of data since it’s ultimately humans who control it. If history has taught us anything, it is that humans, when left to their own devices, will do almost anything to protect themselves, including manipulating or withholding information. This is why totalitarian regimes are so terrible, and why checks and balances in any system are crucial.
Vision Three: The Path of the Business Artist
If we relinquish our fate to technology, we have lost our way. We must rediscover what it means to be human.
Which leads to a fascinating question. Since artificial intelligence and technology are getting so good at mimicking human thinking, what is the role that humans play in the destiny of planet Earth if technology can do everything we can do, but faster and better?
The point of life is not to do everything faster and better. The point of life is to experience it, to relate with other humans on the same journey, to take in the beauty of the universe, and in turn create our own beauty.
If your main goal is to make life more efficient, you have missed the very purpose of life itself.
When Theodore Roosevelt was President, he established the National Park system. He grew up in a period of rapid technological progress in American culture. Roosevelt had the foresight to use the federal government's power to protect areas where industry could not encroach. He believed the natural world was a gift to enjoy, not just a source of raw materials for industry. There were sections of land worth preserving because they added value and beauty to the human experience.
In the same way, the Business Artist says, “There is a human experience worth preserving at any cost, even if it means less efficiency or progress.”
If we let data and technology take over every aspect of our lives, there will be no experience left to have. The dystopian visions of the future in movies like Blade Runner or The Matrix don’t seem so fictional when you consider the lighting pace of technological progress. This is why we need to protect what is essential about the human experience.