Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Humanity is building a machine

Don Tapscott talked on TED in 2012 about his 'four principles for an open world', leading off by saying that today's young people are "the first generation to be bathed in bits"; that they are digital natives rather that 'digital immigrants'. He said "humanity is building a machine".

Don is the Chief Executive of Canadian company, New Paradigm Learning Corporation, and has written a few books on the Net Generation, as he calls the digital natives.

The four principles that Don talks about in his TED talk are collaboration (we have the ability to work together), transparency (wikileaks etc is ensuring that organisations are now naked), sharing (embracing the commons - if we share and don't protect IP we will be in a better place) and empowerment (the distribution of knowledge and power).

The first idea that Don led off with was a story about his neighbour. His neighbour is an investor/gold prospector who had hired geologists who were unable to find the gold that Mr Neighbour felt he had. So Mr Neighbour ran a competition promising that the person who came up with a way for Mr Neighbour to find his gold would get a half a million dollars. Mr Neighbour got several billion dollars return on his $0.5m spend.

There is lots of rhetoric in Don's story that sounds easy, but to me still feels like lean and lucan capitalism in sheep's clothing. I am still not quite sure why.

When I read a bit further, I found some really interesting comments on Don's TED talk, left by some of the watchers. It started off supportively, but the most recent comments were more damning. Such as "I've just read Don Tapscott's take on MOOCs in the Globe and Mail and thought I'd watch this talk. I'm wondering why the G & M [the Globe and Mail] sent *him*. It's nice to be optimistic about the changes that technology can bring, but there's an over-confidence in his article and here in this video that is cloying and hard to take. I'm having a hard time believing he's a prof at U[niveristy] of T[oronto]" from Irene Ogrizek.

CC David said "The gold mining exec is the perfect example of how wealthy white guys are exploiting the 'open world'. Having a 'contest' when people spend their time developing ideas or proposals, then submitting them for review, only to be paid if someone likes them is insanity---and no way to sustain a business. It's what has happened in too many of the creative fields (via 'crowdsourcing' sites like the one in Chicago): companies having 'contests' for logos designs, only paying for the one design they like, and often at a *fraction* of what a professional would charge. And he thinks that's a fine way to treat engineers? Imagine lawyers or doctors getting that 'opportunity'. But hey, his neighbor made billions".

Nik M had a very good point about a concern of mine: who benefits from global openness, "With all its greatness and benefits the Open Era brings humanity, Im worried about one issue. This openness is a concept realized as a result of the efforts of the free world. The openness and free access to knowledge and technology is however being used by and benefiting countries and forces that are actively working against openness and democracy".

So yes, what Don says can all sound really good, slick and well packaged, but I am not so convinced that we aren't going to have a great deal of pain in adapting to this disruptive change that Don is talking about. I think that big companies are going to get a whole lot bigger, greedier and smoother at their own PR, so they make more money.  Individuals are likely to not be so empowered; at least, not for a long time.

I love the possibility that technology can bring, but I doubt that it will be universally beneficent. I suspect that the machine might eat many of us, and spit out the bones.



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