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Digital Transformation 2022

Digital dystopia: is it fiction — or the future?

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Michael Litterick

Innovation and Insight lead consultant, SOCITM Advisory 

Digital transformation is changing the nature of our organisations. As technology increasingly takes on more human tasks, how can we create sustainable environments where people can continue to find purpose, meaning and productivity?

It is natural for organisations to focus on using the best, most effective and most efficient tools for any job. Digital brains (computers) are getting better, but human brains are not. For organisations with a primary focus on external customers and shareholder return, they transition to increasingly reliable, predictable and scalable digital technologies.

Unintended consequences

Digital transformation is the transition of transferring cognitive tasks from human brains to digital ‘brains.’ This results in organisations transforming into more digital entities, reducing the space within them that human thinking occupies. This is similar to what happened to farming in the industrial revolution. And why not?

Two key challenges

Humans face two existential challenges: one to our physical world — the climate crisis, and one to our mental world — the digital mind. In the charge towards digital transformation, organisations can opt for approaches similar to fossil fuels; trading the people and environment of tomorrow for the energy and economy of today. They can also opt to take a more sustainable approach: trading the energy and economy of today for the wellbeing of the people tomorrow.

How we deal with the climate crisis will shape where we can physically live. How we deal with the digital mind will shape where we can work. Organisations must consider how their activities not only contribute to the climate challenge but also the challenge of the digital mind and human space within our workplaces.

Digital transformation is the transition of transferring cognitive tasks from human brains to digital ‘brains.’

Ethical digital transformation

While there remains a fiscal necessity to focus on efficiency, we should also consider how to create sustainable, purposeful and empowering workspaces for our human population — one where technology and economics serve people, rather than technology replacing people for the benefit of the economy.

Digital capabilities can enable great things but when delivered without careful planning, the consequences can harm progress and undermine the overall health of the communities we serve and live in. After all, if we truly digitised everything, what would people do? How do we guard against the realisation of such a digital dystopia?

Work is already underway, especially across the public sector, with data ethics boards and ethicist roles now cropping up across governments. We recognise the value of human capabilities in the design of services, including the element that technology can’t bring: empathy.

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