Technology and Humanness

Much of what is commonly considered technology today is science and engineering technology. Technology is more than that. Some of the most significant technological innovations are cultural. Technology that allows us to organize and cooperate to accomplish amazing things. Organized religion is probably one of the most impactful cultural technologies. Long before the internet existed, organized religion connected billions of people globally and allowed widespread collaboration that is a large part of why humans dominate the Earth today. The agricultural and industrial revolutions both combined great leaps in science and engineering with innovative cultural constructs. Our challenge today is that we have forgotten the notion that scientific innovation is maximized when it coincides with cultural innovation.

E.O. Wilson articulated this clearly when he wrote, “we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology”. Our challenge in the 21st-century is that cultural technology may no longer be able to keep pace with science and engineering. Robin Hanson (Oxford Future of Life Institute and MIR Ventures advisor) describes the importance and difficulty of cultural technology by framing it as a design problem, “we must solve the paradox of pretending to give people what they pretend to want while simultaneously, actually giving them what they actually want”. So far our institutions (however medieval they are) have kept our paleolithic emotions mostly contained. As we advance into the era of “god-like technology,” we struggle in the absence of the next cultural innovation. That brings us back to humanness. Move fast and break things works in some areas of innovation, but is not the best recipe for cultural change. Anyone who has been a part of an M&A integration of two companies knows the feeling of the business merger getting torpedoed by forgetting about the human factor. Our institutions are ill-suited to manage the era of machine intelligence. Even before the rapid rise of machine intelligence, cracks had been forming.

The internet and social media created an opportunity for widespread communication and cooperation among anyone anywhere, and yet it establishes social challenges every day. The main problem is that human cooperation depends on mass identity, which depends on shared stories[Harari, Y.N.]. Lasting mass-identity is not created overnight, though short term mass-identity can be (think stadiums of sports fans). The test for us all is to build humanness into the next technological revolution deliberately. At MIR Ventures, that means when we invest in innovation, we think carefully about how the companies and teams are prepared intellectually, politically, morally, and culturally to understand the possible outcomes of their business and product decisions; and making choices that are the right business decisions but also have positive indirect and second-order effects.

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky

To help us do this, we have a framework starting with what we call the ABCs of human goals and motivation. What we (people collectively) do is continually optimize our ability to fulfill the ABCs. Broadly speaking, everything we do and every decision we make are ultimately to accomplish three goals.

Actualizing and seeking to be a part of something ‘beyond’ ourselves

Basic needs and fulfilling them as efficiently as possible

Cooperating, across ever larger populations and great distance

This is where the opportunity lies. Fundamentally understanding these dynamics creates a chain reaction of opportunities: such as using intelligent machines to commoditizing basic needs, or enabling new markets focused on cooperation, collaboration, and efficiency. Thus giving entrepreneurs and investors the ability to build new businesses, and deploy more capital, into humanness to solve global challenges. This is not always straightforward. Many nuances are easily overlooked; which is why our team together makes sure we are considering these factors from many angles. Some feel that focusing on human culture and society equates to philanthropy or social impact. We don’t see it that way. People have always strived to cooperate to solve common issues and increase the prosperity of the group. Using technology to accomplish those goals globally and species-wide is a natural progression of human behavior.

John Braze