ODR: Enabling New Communities and Institutions
While users generally explore new technologies such as ODR and eNegotiation systems for their applicability to their needs, what is often disregarded is the way those new technologies transform their users and the user environment. As a number of social scientists and philosophers have explored over the last sixty years, technology also transforms users in specific ways with significant long term implications for humanity as a whole. This raises significant questions about the way digital technologies, especially ODR and eNegotiations systems, are transforming human existence. In this discussion forum we will be speculating on the meaning of the current technology for human existence in the near future. The specific focus will be the emergence of new communities and institutions, but don’t worry if your thoughts slide off into other areas. I think that in this forum we can risk asking some of the big questions. Communities and institutions are always emerging in relation to new technologies, but those might not be the most important impacts as we explore.
In order to get us started in thinking the big questions I have identified four major perspectives on technological change that have emerged in the literature over the last sixty years. Clearly the implications of technological change are profound, and these four perspectives give us some sense of just how profound.
The idea that technology shapes humanity first emerged as a significant idea in the work of the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger , in the late 1940s. Heidegger argued that technology enframes human existence, and that subsequent to every new technology human thinking expands to think in terms enabled by the technology. He thought that human beings integrated technological capabilities into their self-understanding, for example thinking of a day’s travel in global terms rather than local terms after the invention of cheap international air travel. The new technological capability was very quickly understood as a human norm for behaviour.
The French philosopher, Jacques Ellul, quickly grasped the negative possibilities in Heidegger’s insight and noted that not only does technology open avenues of human thinking, it also decisively closes other possibilities. For example, nuclear energy might mean widespread and cheap electrical power, but it also requires a massive state security apparatus in order to keep reactors operating safely and free of terrorist threats. Human freedom will never be the same in the world of nuclear power that it was in a world without nuclear energy. A cloud of radiation now hovers over humanity, restricting every activity, bringing with it massive surveillance and police operations.
In the 1980s the American social scientist, Donna Haraway, developed quite a different perspective in her article, “A Cyborg Manifesto.” Haraway notes that in the contemporary world the line between human and machine is blurring as we integrate cybernetic technologies into every aspect of human existence. For Haraway this radically shifts the meaning of human identity as we converse regularly with people 1000 km away and never talk to the neighbour next door. What then is the meaning of human community? Or is Cyber-sex sex? And if so, then what is sex? Clearly the relational and biological nature of human existence has been significantly transformed by technology.
The English archeologist, Timothy Thomas, places Haraway’s insight into another connection when he draws attention to the way technology and human existence co-evolve. Over the millennia every major shift in technology has been accompanied by a corresponding shift in the biological nature of human existence. As he notes, average human brain size has been dropping for 30,000 years, the consequence of agricultural techonology. Currently medical technology makes it possible for many human beings to continue to live (and reproduce) who would otherwise have died and been left out of the gene pool, and thus humanity becomes biologically weaker while human diversity expands. Human diversity, in turn, leads to an expansion in the types and uses of technology, a process of mutual effect that never ends. The human future, according to Thomas, is one of increasing integration of human beings and machines.
In light of these analyses it seems appropriate that we explore the question of human transformation that our new cyber-technologies are creating. Human beings are changing due to the technologies we are developing and implementing. What are those directions of change? What will happen in the future due to the tools we have created? I invite you to ponder these questions and respond. Let’s see what we can think about how we can not only use our technologies to accomplish new things, but how those technologies change the human species in perception, action, and bodily existence.In particular,
Heidegger, Martin. (1976). The Question Concerning Technology. Basic Writings, pp. 283-317. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
Ellul, Jacques. (1964). The Technological Society. New York: Knopf.
Haraway, Donna. (1991). A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, pp. 149-181. New York: Routledge.
Thomas, Timothy. (2010). The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dr. Hiebert is the Vice-President for Applications and Ethics at iCan Systems Inc., the developers of the Smartsettle suite of eNegotiation software. He develops implementation processes that enable specific user groups to effective apply eNegotiation tools to standard and on-line business practices. Dr. Hiebert is also a professor of Business Ethics for University Canada West in Vancouver, BC, Canada. He is the author of Your Soul at Work: How to live your values in the Workplace (Northstone, 2005) and regularly presents papers exploring the relationship of human organizations and human values. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
As someone who works with eNegotiations software what is obvious to me is that since negotiations are such an intrinsic part of how human beings do everything, our relationships to each other may well undergo radical change as a consequence of this new technology. eNegotiations technology both lowers the cost of high quality negotiation and increases the complexity of negotiations that can be reasonably considered. Smartsettle can think through negotiations at a more sophisticated level than the best human being. At the same time it brings down the cost of those negotiations from the many thousands of dollars to only a few dollars, and probably eventually down to pennies (sorry for the PR plug, but it gives a sense of why I see social change coming). This creates the possibility of radically changing how human beings do everything, from getting a job, to buying a car, to determining who takes out the trash. With what will no doubt eventually become a smartphone app, people will be calculating cost-benefit tradeoffs between a wide range of options every time they turn around. Business process can expect to radically shift as algorithmic strategies become applied to every encounter, seeking to negotiate that edge that makes something radically more profitable.
But, in the light of the philosophers, this suggests human beings will also begin to see every human being as simply another obstacle to negotiated success. We may well become more instrumental and less relational in our interactions. We may value humans less for who they are and more for what they can do for us. Community will become more difficult to find and maintain. Is this a desirable future? Is the trade-off worth it? Is it even possible to mitigate this instrumentality? As one charged with setting this technology loose on the planet, this is one of my concerns.
Thank you very much for the interesting summary and questions. I would like to add two perspectives / cents (not unrelated to what you are talking about, I hope) -
1) Social shaping of technology - society shaping technology and vice versa. I think it is good to consider this both from the perspective of the individual and from the community. Technology changes the nature of the interactions between people and within communities, but for instance Facebook arose from the university student community and their interactions.
2) Information production - specifically Yochai Benkler's "The Wealth of Networks" and the change of the role individuals with the shift from old media to new media from passive receiving nodes to active users. This is what we are doing here after all!
Thanks for sharing. One thing that stands out for me in your comments is: "Smartsettle can think through negotiations at a more sophisticated level than the best human being."
The first thing that comes to my mind is I wonder if that is necessarily a good thing? If it is the case (SmartSettle being more sophisticated than humans- btw, how is that measured?), will people rely then on companies like SmartSettle to solve their disputes? I am sure SmartSettle would like that from a financial perspective but looking at the reliance on technology to take care of problems, is that good?
It would be a paradigm shift but it also could be a shift that takes away the human interactive and cognitive element of working through the problem/conflict/dispute together.
That said, I do think SmartSettle does have an important role in certain settings- for example from what I read, it really has been very successful in working with lawsuits on behalf of NYC and people suing them.
Jeff, did my boss tell you to ask that question? The idea of improving on human capabilities is not hard to measure, just as it is not hard to measure how much faster an automobile can get you some place than traveling by foot. In tests against skilled human decision makers done by a neutral third party, Smartsettle has returned an average 16% higher real value to BOTH parties in complex negotiation environments. However, for the future I think it makes it possible to conceive of realistic negotiations of a complexity well beyond anything even imagined now. Just like no one would recognize the early automobile as a primary location for human mating behaviour, I don't think we have any idea where cheap powerful negotiation tools will take us. ODR using tools like Smartsettle means that any group of people, scattered any which way across the planet, can come together to build a mutually rewarding relationship. What will that lead to? What does it mean that they can put dozens of criteria into their negotiations and have a reliable conviction that everything is well integrated and value is returned? Three way trade is much more profitable than two way trade, but now we can imagine realistic ten way trade! The potential for global partnership (and profit) is immense.
I suspect that we are a long way from assessing the impact of the combination of negotiation algorithms tied into global communication networks. We can do better than human, but who knows what that really means?
(Oh, and Cybersettle has the NYC work, not Smartsettle.)
I had never heard of the eNegotiations software before, and I must admit, it seems rather interesting and a very economical and efficient way to negotiate. However, I’m intrigued how software such as this deals with human emotion often involved in disputes? Is the software focused more on positional negotiating or interest-based negotiations? If the software focuses merely on cost-benefit analysis in decision-making, do you think technology is moving towards removing emotion from basic human interactions and conflicts?
University of Nebraska
Fascinating discussion, Bruce. I do think that technology is changing us -- but we are changing technology in much more radical and rapid ways. I remember in the 1980s when everyone thought computers would dehumanize us, making us automatons. We were supposed to learn to read typefaces that were optimized for computers to read. Then in the 1990s the Palm Pilot had us re-learn how to write the alphabet so that our PDAs could understand us. Now computers have gotten smart enough that we don't need to change anything -- they can read our typefaces, listen to our voices, and we just need to touch them with our fingers. I think humanity used to have to do a lot more of the heavy lifting -- walking the stacks looking for dusty tomes that held the information we need. Now it's just a google search away. I like to think that technology is freeing us from the drudgery so we can focus more on what only humans do well.
I think it's a matter of time before we have computer judges. Look at watson beating the pants off of the humans on Jeopardy. And look at the studies showing that judges give lighter sentences just after lunch, and harsher sentences once they become hungry again. The flesh is weak, but the silicon is not. We may think it's weirdly inhuman to rely on computers for tasks like that, that we think of as so intimately human, but we'll get over it. The next generation will think that our reliance on unpredictable and easily confused human brains was the really immoral option, not the reliance on software.
I can relate to the texting phenomenon occurring in your family. For me, it is still a mixture of phone calls and text, but I find that the constant communication afforded by mobile phones leaves me exhausted. I appreciate being kept in the loop to a certain extent, but I think the overall result is more negative than positive in my closest relationships. I also feel as though I never really get any "alone" time because that time is constantly interrrupted by calls, texts, etc. and if I should happen to miss a few calls, it often leads to a dispute. The conveniences offered by mobile technology cannot be denied, but the long-term effects of this constant communication remain to be seen.
Bruce Hiebert said:
The passive to active shift is an interesting one. One could argue, analogously to something Neil Postman wrote some years ago, that we are trying to recover an older form of public discourse, the public square, with the new technologies. But I wonder if we aren't actually creating a new kind of people, a people who don't actually listen to each other, but who kind of float along in constant relationship. I know that in my family we are changing our relationship due to texting. It used to be that people left home in the morning and came back at night. Now we kind of disperse and regroup, but never lose contact. IF anything happens we all know about it within minutes and can respond quickly as well. But that means that the old question, what did you do today, becomes irrelevant. We already know. We don't need to focus on each other quite the same way. It is a new way of being family in community where texting replaces talking. Is this good or bad?