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Recent years have seen the topic of bias surge in news, procedure and legislation. It is now common knowledge that we each have a level of unconscious bias, which we must take into account in decision making processes. Movements of last decade have centralised the need to undo the injustices that prevail in our society and awareness of the needs of minority groups has significantly grown.
However, coinciding with this surge of knowledge and pursuit of equality has been our ever-increasing development of technology. Artificial Intelligence is appearing across all industries, spheres and processes. Despite achieving unprecedented levels of efficiency, productivity and speed, it is also bringing with it the biases of the society it serves. At the same rate that our awareness of injustice increases, the technology we are creating threatens to perpetuate it.
In the mid-1960s, Dr Martin Luther King Jr suggested that the primary goal of education ought to be two things: teaching students to think deeply, and to think with discernment. These two essential ingredients, he argued, were the key to building both intelligence and character. Beyond this, Dr King knew that these skills were the antidote to the biases and bigotry fuelling the racism of America at the time.
Fast forward 60 years, to the first month of 2021, and the danger of ignorance is again painfully clear. The last year has brought us the chaos of misinformation more than any other year before. The media information surrounding COVID alone brought dozens of conflicting messages, all of them amplified within a context of panic in which even officials struggled to effectively deal with this unprecedented issue.
Britain’s first female Member of Parliament, Lady Astor, once observed: “The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change nothing – or everything.”
As events have unfolded this year, the word ‘pivot’ has emerged as a description of the moves necessary in business, society and individual lives to adapt to uncertain times. It is an appropriate word choice to describe these movements, especially as it depicts a motion that adapts its direction, while remaining rooted in one spot. It is clear that in times of crisis, the fundamental need for businesses is the ability to pivot.
While it may certainly seem like a crisis and a pivot of this scale are unique to this year, businesses have been adapting and moving with uncertain times since their beginning.
This year, more than any, we have seen the power of fake news. Politics, climate change, public scandals and the virus which has overwhelmed our year, have revealed a vulnerability in society’s ways of consuming news and information.
My colleague and friend Claire Madden suggests that students today are increasingly ‘brokers of information’ not ‘knowers of content’. This is an important distinction and a dangerous trend as it means students are often very willing to propagate information without discerning its veracity or accuracy. This trend in young people carries just as easily to older generations whose engagement on digital platforms also leaves them vulnerable to misinformation.
In a world of fake news, alternative facts and conspiracy theories, in which each individual learns and shares information on complex and powerful digital platforms, this trend reaches new levels of danger. The ability to discern fact from fiction is fundamental.
Perhaps the most common fear of teachers in a classroom is that of losing control. The fear of students running amok and dominating the room is enough to send many teachers back into the traditional authoritarian format, where silent and repetitive work is the key means of learning. In my experience of working with schools and teachers, the words ‘Project-Based Learning’ are often quick to conjure up these fears.
Over my years of working in the business world around ideas of innovation and leadership, one lesson I have learned is that there is a lesson to be learned in most places. I must admit though, when I sat down to watch Frozen 2 with my son, I did not expect it to be one of these places.
For as long as work has existed in the form we know it, the idea of a workplace has been a given. Work has traditionally been the place you go between 9 and 5, Monday and Friday, where the tasks of your job are conducted in the vicinity of your colleagues.
Recent years have seen changes in the workplace begin to emerge with the advent of automation and Artificial Intelligence. Working from home has become a viable option for many businesses in recent years as our capacity for online connection has increased and autonomous work has risen in popularity along with collaborative work.
Along with lockdowns, shopping frenzies and social distancing, COVID has brought the technologies that we once reserved for years down the track right to our doorstep. While Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have slowly but surely been infiltrating our daily lives in recent years, COVID has accelerated this to an unprecedented extent.
Whatever the circumstance, one thing we can be sure of is that the future is coming. No matter the success of the standards and systems of the past, disruption is inevitable. Incidentally, it is in crises that the future often arrives. Think back to some of the biggest technological innovations of the past and you will find yourself in the greatest wars and struggles of history.
COVID is no different. The past few months have seen the future that we knew was awaiting us arrive far ahead of schedule bringing with it the innovations and solutions that we were promised in a decade.