5IR – technology with a human touch, harnessing the power of collaboration


Written by Sarah Peña, Managing Consultant, Methods

With well-being and values in focus, there’s quite a difference from 4IR which brought about fear of competition, possibly replacement, and a complete focus on prioritising technical progress; 5IR is about building on each other’s strengths and incorporating the well-being of all – technology for people, planet and humane use.

According to a research paper by the World Economic Forum, “5IR technologies are expected to have a profound impact on the way we live and work, but their development must be guided by a human-centered approach to ensure that their benefits are widely shared and that their negative impacts are minimised.

And we all know technology has displaced many forms of human interaction; handwritten letters, a once cherished communication, are increasingly rare. On the other hand, we can Teams with anyone, anywhere, at any time. We have begun to see not only the rise of technology interaction displacement, but also the movement from ‘trusted’ people to technology, for example, robots performing medical operations, making food, putting together your prescriptions, to chatbots and voice assistants providing advice and guidance, or driverless taxis, e-discovery lawyers, etc.

We should all have a vested interest in shaping advancing technologies for the greater good by consciously and proactively seeking to achieve an enriched community, as well as greater efficiency, from each leap forward. In all industries, technology has been a powerfully disruptive force, but also one that binds. We all know the COVID-19 situation accelerated technology-first approaches, this was vital, and most advances were with people at the forefront and heart of change.  We must not lose sight of human value and that people matter – always – especially with the most complex technology deficits – intelligence (yeah, I know ChatGBP is cool!), creativity, deep personalisation that matters, empathy, and judgement.

Even if a machine could determine an appropriate medical treatment plan, we still want to work with a doctor who has been trained to talk us through the options, who listens to and understands our thoughts and feelings, who helps us choose the option that’s right for us – someone who understands the art in the science. However, those machines can be oh so helpful, in diagnosis for example, identifying those highest at risk (not forgetting human assessment of that – biases can creep in), the analysis of existing medicines whose properties could be used for emergent diseases / viruses, VR for ‘practice’ surgery, etc.

So, let’s use advanced technologies to help solve pressing social and environmental problems; AI, machine learning, computer vision, and data analytics to improve healthcare outcomes, and IoT and robotics to help make agriculture more sustainable. Reports by The Rockefeller Foundation state “AI has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people… though we need to tear down and re-programme for human flourishing” and McKinsey research highlights, “Human-machine collaboration can increase efficiency, improve decision making, and reduce the risk of errors.” But also “Whilst AI use has increased, there have been no substantial increases in mitigation of any AI-related risks.

Implementing technology with a human touch is vital; we need to understand lived experiences. The cooperation and collaboration between people and technology can result in amazing achievements and we need to ensure we understand and maximise the best value of each. Those that know me well, know of a particular co-bot scenario I’m desperate to work on that would aim to help people that experience significant barriers to work due to severe physical disability; and a study by the United Nations highlights “disability-inclusive technology can help improve the lives of people with disabilities by providing them with greater access to information, services, and opportunities, and by enhancing their ability to participate in society.”

So, 5IR is a powerful and transformative force that has the potential to bring about significant improvements in many areas. By harnessing 5IR for good, fostering and leveraging human-machine collaboration, we can create a future in which technology and people dance together to create a better world for all.

To hear more from Sarah Peña check out the link below for her talk taking place during Public Sector Insight Week 

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