Consciousness: our uniqueness and threatened abilities


I had a short conversation today with a bus driver on my way to Nordic Business Forum in Helsinki. There are few people who sees so much of society as public transport employees. Which is why I take every chance I get to talk with officials. We happened to start the conversation on the topic of my reusable cup.

Her view on current trends is that we are quickly losing out to our pleasures. Her observation was that people are spending less and less time with their kids, even the youngest of children in their strollers are turned forward to see the world, and thus seeing the world, rather than developing human relationships with the most important people in their world, the parents. Even when the babies are turned towards their parents, the parents listen to music, attend social media or their books, rather than engaging with their kids and their world. Where are we headed?

Our most important assets in this third millennium will not be technical wizardry, it will be to be human, compassionate and most of all conscious! And I believe that the live human connection is undervalued today. In the age of networked algorithms, the key to success will be the combination of tech and conciousness, tech to augment our capacities, and consciousness of compassion, love, ethics, reflection and observing from higher human awareness.

The more we look into the distant future, the more having awareness, being conscious, and being present in the moment will make us perceive reality and accept and handle ambiguity. It will be hard to develop these skills without immersing ourselves in deeply human experiences, and see nuances.

Biology and the human being

We model what we don’t understand using metaphors of our age. We didn’t understand the human being in the first machine age, and used concepts that united us with mechanical technology to describe ourselves: to let off steam, derail, to feel the pressure is mounting, and then that we are going to blow a fuse.

In the dawn of the second machine age, we model the human beings as networked algorithms, and this unites computer sciences with biology. True, with “On the Origin of Species” by Darwin, and “The Selfish Gene” by Dawkins, it’s hard not to view all species as very specialized algorithms.

Biology and computer sciences still can’t account for consciousness, nor locate it specifically. It might be a byproduct of evolution, or we can argue that all sentient beings have it to some degree, and what separates humans from other creatures is language and the ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers.

The “flexible” part of “collaborating flexibly” is key, and so is consciousness in directing action based on ethics based reasoning. Harari writes well on these subjects in both Sapiens and Homo Deus, and give us insight into the term of Networked Algorithms which is a good way to look at the Internet, Internet of Things, and most notably Artificial Intelligence as tilting our world in a new direction.

The fast pace towards AI comes from myriad small human decisions where we give up power for convenience. We pave the way to evermore automation and easier life, where we have to do less and less of hard things.

What should we cherish?

A few of the most important things of being human is that we care and have the ability to really love, handle ambiguity, appreciate art and can be conscious and present. These traits make us human and are things we need to keep in mind while we rush forward. The worst thing that could happen to us is that we make ourselves redundant by not appreciating what matters most.

We need to switch from an egocentric western world view, learn to appreciate our unique human endowments and, rather than seek to work with things that can be automated, seek to work with the big questions that will bring us as human beings together and to higher levels of consciousness!

Higher levels of consciousness will be reached only through exploration: by ourselves in solitude, meditating, formulating and identifying important questions and causes; together in reflective and trusting conversations; and in search for answers and plans in collaboration with both human and non-human networked algorithms.

Let’s find better ways to interact amongst us, with our children, our elders, our families, our friends and peers. Our heritage will depend on us in how we see and interact in this world, how we treat it, how we accept ambiguity, and how we take responsibility to keep our world as a world for human beings with compassion, consciousness and love being the guiding stars; rather than efficiency, good looks and no ambiguity.