The Human Factor

Robot and Human arms touching

What are the people behind Technoport doing?! It´s supposed to be about technology so why are they then inviting a bunch of fuzzy humanities-people as speakers? Isn’t technology about science and engineering and problem-solving and real things like that? And by the way - isn’t the "human factor" usually the culprit when things go haywire? It’s something we don’t want, right? Or? Maybe Technoport is trying to sneak-humanitize honest technologists and engineers?

Anyway. Enough banter. Here is why I think this year`s theme Human Factor is exciting and important. I lead multidisciplinary strategic design projects at the global telecom giant Ericsson’s research department. The mission is to explore new opportunities and directions for technology research and development and one important part of that work is to develop tangible prototypes and showcases that could be from the near future, concept studies that are technically, commercially and culturally plausible, but that are not yet technologically solved. Most people I know that work seriously with ideation agree that mixing perspectives and knowledge is good. On macro scale, city mayors across the world promotes diversity since they know it is good for innovation, which makes their city more attractive for people and for business in these globalized times. In short, starting with people makes good business. So what kind of different perspectives could we expect at this year`s human-themed Technoport? The divide between humanities and science is old news, perhaps most famously debated by C P Snow seventy years ago.

But the two cultures remain to a certain degree. Generalizing massively, one could say that people within science & engineering and in arts & humanities tend to have two different primary focus planes as well as assumed approach to understanding the World. Over implified, of course, but: scientists and engineers focus on facts, data and solutions while humanists focus on narratives, meaning and inquiry. These primary focal points are probably affecting the way the different camps see the world too. The french philosopher and sociologist Bruno Latour once wrote that "the world is not a continent of facts sprinkled by a few lakes of uncertain ties, but a vast ocean of uncertainties speckled by a few islands of confidence". It`s a statement of his own view as well as an illustration of both ways to look at it all.

The divide isn’t really true and in many cases it is a false dichotomy. It’s a sliding scale and many are in the
overlap, bridging the two cultures, such as sociology, cognitive linguistics, anthropology, history, economics and design. Whichever is closest to your own view of the world is less important, and most of us are probably a mix of both, depending on situation and subject. The point is that it is the mutually respectful and constructive meeting between different views that is a spur to new and letter ideas. I believe that we need more people in tech that are able to pull technology forward by reframing problems, by starting with people and by asking better or more complex questions — rather than pushing, i.e. developing something nifty and then try to find out what exactly it should be used for. To be successfully with that one have to be able to combine insights and skills from Arts & Humanities with knowledge and techniques from Science and Engineering.

After a decade of idea-work in technology research I'm convinced that fusing cultural literacy and critical inquiry with technology development and business execution is instrumental for any organization's capacity for innovation. That's why I`m happy that this years theme at Technoport is the human factor.

In collaboration with Tech List 


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