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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

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System error: Reboot human

Relatives hug through a ‘hug curtain’ at a nursing home in Sao Paulo. The long-term effects of limited human contact could hasten the merging of humans and machines, to our detriment, yet there are also advantages to a more tech-driven world, says Dr Iqbal Survé. Picture: EPA

Relatives hug through a ‘hug curtain’ at a nursing home in Sao Paulo. The long-term effects of limited human contact could hasten the merging of humans and machines, to our detriment, yet there are also advantages to a more tech-driven world, says Dr Iqbal Survé. Picture: EPA

Published Jul 6, 2020


Cape Town - History, a record of past events good and bad, is peppered with seminal moments of human advancement - think when man first invented fire, the wheel, the telephone, train, machines to enhance manufacture, space travel, the personal computer, mobile phone and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). The spoken word, to written, and now to voice activated communication and so on.

Each advancement compelled an adaptation of human behaviour. However, it is the current technological revolution, coupled with the global war against Covid-19, that can reasonably be said as driving the most dramatic reformation of human beings, at present. Whether this is a plus or a negative is yet to be decided - the outcome being firmly in the hands of each one of us.

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That “outcome” is a heavy responsibility for us all to shoulder. One, which we simply cannot abdicate and advocate for others (governments) to decide for us. Right now, we are talking about a fundamental change in how we define what it is to be human.

Where once we took something as mundane as hugging and the public, physical display of affection for granted, we have been told to adhere to social distancing.

As a medical doctor, I understand the current hesitancy around human contact, but it does also concern me that the long-term cutting off of human contact (both in the physical and emotional sense) can hasten singularity - where man and machine merge and “feeling” is superfluous to requirement.

Yet, as a businessman with a keen interest in technology and the benefits that a connected society can bring to level the playing fields, I see the tremendous advantages a more technologically driven world can bring. This is the quandary I find myself in and it is also the paradox and conundrum, the majority of us find ourselves living, daily.

Fact is stranger than fiction

Even words have evolved over this time. The word “platform”, for example. It can be a raised stand from which someone can deliver a speech or presentation, a place from which to board or disembark from a train, or even a particular style of shoe. It is also a noun closely associated with the computer/technology industry.

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Technology platforms have, slowly at first, but ever more rapidly and insidiously, taken over our lives.

Without even really being aware, we have given tacit agreement for these large platforms to infiltrate and run our lives. We have become fully integrated into these platforms - from eCommerce, streaming, education, health care and energy to our transportation, delivery, content, information and so on. We even meet people online through social media and a plethora of dating platforms.

Add to this the fact that office-bound working looks like it could well be a thing of the past as many embrace remote working and there is really no need to leave the house when we do though, at present, we are instructed not to get close to one another - this applies to young children as much as it does for the rest of society.

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What does this all mean for future personal interaction and is this enforced remoteness of human relationships a permanent shift?

We have also given away the keys to our personal information. Every interaction we do - whether swiping our bank cards, making a call or visiting family and friends - we generate an enormous amount of data that is also tracked.

Data is the most valuable currency in the world today - but who owns it? Not you, nor I. Not your government either. It is the platforms through which we live our daily lives who own all that information and, in essence, we have become their slaves.

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I am not advocating a return to the Dark Ages - pre-technology and data science - not at all.

As I have said, technology has and can still, do much good in the world. However, it is the intent with which we use technology or allow technology to have access to our innermost thoughts, feelings and personal details that we need to consider going forward.

We need balance, otherwise, instead of going out to physically meet someone, they will be selected for us, based on a set of data guidelines, and we will be matched to then procreate to ensure the survival of the human species. But wait, that’s already happening plus with technology-based solutions for growing “babies” we don’t actually need to physically reproduce. Machines are already thinking for themselves too, so it begs the question: does the planet still need human beings at all?

I paint a dark picture here and for very good reason, because if you and I do not stop to consider each action we take, we may well end up, ended.

I do not have a crystal ball either, so I cannot gaze into its depths and tell you what the future holds. What I do know, is that there is a system error in the matrix. That error is us, human beings, who without much thought or consequence, have squandered countless opportunities nature has provided us over millennia, to make our world a better place for all who inhabit it.

Right now, here today, it is us, human beings who need to reboot our thinking and our way of life in order for life for us to continue.

* Dr Iqbal Survé is chairperson of Sekunjalo Investment Holdings and Independent Media.

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