27 May 19|Innovation

What came first, the individual or the tribe?

There has been an emphasis on the human at the Boston Innovation Festival 2019. The trends are moving away from technology being the star. We are realizing that technology is here to better serve humanity. After all, the impetus for each technological advancement is to meet an unmet human need. 

Tim Allen from Microsoft asked delegates who amongst them identified themselves as a genius. A few hands tentatively went up. How could we consider ourselves in the class of Einstein or Hawking? Looking at the definition of a genius, coming from the word, gignere, we find it is refers to that unique quality we are each born with, the thing that makes ‘me’ different to ‘you’. 

Currently, some of the technology out there is exclusive, rather than inclusive. Data sets are reflecting marginalised populations of human society. The more you are marginalised, the less you are included in the data. The more you are misunderstood, the more you are excluded. How does this happen? A data set is a data set isn’t it?

There are systems of AI facial recognition that will follow a ‘white’ face but can’t find a ‘black’ face. Immediately we have a bias in the algorithm. It seems AI isn’t as non-biased as we first imagined. This  2016 ProPublica investigation used by judges to predict the likelihood of reoffending was biased against minorities. When humans create the algorithms, isn’t there an innate bias to begin with?

Allen believes algorithmic decision making has potential side effects. Loss of opportunity in employment, insurance and social benefits, housing and education have been expressed. Economically, lines of credit can be inhibited. Socially, stigmatisation can be experienced through increased surveillance and stereotyping. 

At another level, globalisation has removed barriers of entry for many businesses. And data has taken a bit of the guess work out of predicting trends. Hugo Amos from Black Swan Data
used Matcha tea to outline how social media conversations can lead to trend predictions. In 2012 people were talking about a weird type of tea. A little further along the time continuum, people were talking about the health benefits of the weird tea. Now Matcha is considered a superfood!

Trends and conversations are one way of looking forward where traditional research is always looking back. 

Amos described how the organisation applied their techniques to seek out information about the disease that was to cut short the life of the founder’s sister, Julie. 
 “By harnessing millions of internet conversations and packaging over 10,000 data sets from Julie’s diary – from what she ate to how she felt – Steve and the team started to match her symptoms with others. They started making connections and patterns that human beings simple can’t.”

They found Julie had a curable disease. She now runs marathons.

Back to the opening line of this blog. What came first, the individual or the tribe? It may be more apt to say that way back at the beginning of time, we lived in tribes. We were protected by, and we served our tribe according to the rules of the elders. Our individuality was only important to ensure the survival of the tribe.

In 2019 it is precisely our individuality that allows us to contribute at our greatest capacity. Our tribe is global. And so are our goals. We are celebrating the uniqueness each one of us brings to make the world a better place.

“Gignere (beget) – the attendant spirit present from one’s birth, innate ability or inclination.” - Tim Allen, Microsoft

“Gignere (beget) – the attendant spirit present from one’s birth, innate ability or inclination.” - Tim Allen, Microsoft

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