This holiday season, we are bidding farewell to 2020 and welcoming 2021 with a series we’re calling “The Conversation,” a collection of brief, but meaningful insights and reflections, curated and shared by members of the Domain7 team. Centring on themes that help us reflect on a tumultuous year and move forward into the future, we’re exploring change, resilience, community, transformation, and grounded hope.
Today’s host is Stanley Lai, design director at Domain7. Just to note, that we are, like many of you, working largely from home and that these recordings may have a homemade flavour. We hope you enjoy joining us in our work and neighboruhood environments for a little audio visit. Here’s Stanley.
Hello and happy holidays. Today I’m sharing selected readings by Dr. Shannon Vallor, a professor at Edinburgh Future Institute who wrote the book, Technology and the Virtues: A Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Wanting, amongst many other accomplishments. I first encountered her work while doing academic research and work on the applied ethics of design and technology and was really inspired by her articulation of the need for more than just new and better tech, but better wisdom and virtue.
So I want to read a selection of passages from her book in the conclusion in the epilogue.
“My aim has been to shine a light on this all too real disease, a widening cultural gap between the scope of our global techno-social power and the depth of our techno moral wisdom. The human family may be many things, but in essence, we are a family of engineers. We engineer ourselves in various modes, science and craftsmanship, but also humanistic education, art, literature, music, spiritual practice, physical exertion, and of course, the practice of philosophy.
Over the millennia, these modes have produced many new tools and many visions of the future. Today, it happens to be the tools of the digital era that shape most powerful of sense of what is possible for the human family. Yet here we must concern ourselves with the one tool that humanity must finally master. This tool is not an artifact of silicon but of cultural wisdom. Better technical systems alone will not secure the future of human flourishing, only with a broader and more intensive social cultivation of techno-moral virtues such as wisdom, courage, and perspective, can this aim be accomplished.”
She closes sharing Gene Roddenberry’s future vision in the writing of Star Trek.
“Star Trek speaks to some basic needs, that there is a tomorrow and it’s not going to be over with a big flash and a bomb. And that the human race is improving. That we have things to be proud of as humans. In the original series, the humans of the 23rd century repeatedly reference a critical leap in moral development made by 21st and 22nd century humans. A cultural transition that enabled the narrow escape from self-destruction in the Indonesian wars fuelled by new techno-scientific powers.
In the future, Roddenberry envision, humanity survives not by inventing warp drives and transporters nor by enduring a global apocalypse that erases our weakened cultures and broken institutions, but by consciously cultivating the techno-moral virtues needed to improve them. The self-control, courage, empathy, civility, perspective, magnanimity, and wisdom to make humanity worry of its greatest techno-scientific aspirations. Such a future has not been promised to us, but it is the future worth wanting.
The reason I chose this particular piece is the reminder and encouragement that Dr. Vallor offered me as a technologist to look beyond the pixels, the code, the silicon, and to really pay even greater attention to myself, the people around me, and the shared humanity that we are all a part of.
In the last couple of decades, we’ve enjoyed the fruits of relentless innovation from something as simple and mundane as staying in touch with friends and family around the world to the futuristic possibilities and promise of self-driving cars. But we’ve also wrestled with the challenges of ill-considered innovation from the social ills of misinformation spread through social media to the spectre of what poorly-managed AI and automation might do to our societies, our jobs, and our economies.
As we work on these technologies, we need to shape them in ways that allow all people to flourish. More than just new guidelines, methods, rules, and regulations—now we need all of those—but we also need to work on ourselves. It is true, the shaping and developing of our character, of our virtues, will give us the resilience and the enduring ability to respond to the emerging challenges of new technology.
Dr. Vallor explored the breadth of Eastern and Western philosophies and what they tell us about our role and the work that we do in building tech. And so she offers us these 12 techno-social virtues. They are honesty, self-control, humility, justice, courage, empathy, care, civility, flexibility, perspective, magnanimity, and techno-moral wisdom.
The one question that I’ll leave us with today as we close is that if you are a technologists today like I am, whether someone trying to build a better future by building this new cutting edge tools, or using them in your day-to-day to serve other people, where do you stand on these 12 techno-social virtues? Where does your team stand? How can we grow and mature in this together?
I’m Stanley with Domain7. Thanks for listening.
Stanley read an excerpt from Dr. Shannon Vallor’s book, Technology and the Virtues, a Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Wanting, published by Oxford University Press in 2016. “The Conversation” is a special edition of Domain7’s podcast, “Change is in the Making.” Our audio producer is Kurt Wilkinson. Our designer is Ryan Martinez and music is provided by James Boraas. Leadership and editorial support is provided by Sarah Butterworth, Kevan Gilbert, and myself, Veronica Collins. Please tune in each weekday for the first half of this month to hear more from our team on moving from 2020 into 2021 with hope and purpose, or visit us at domain7.com for more ideas, resources, and podcasts. Happy holidays.