Technologists vs. Humanists

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Technologists vs. Humanists

At the cutting edge of innovation we see a split between the technologists, who envision a future driven by science and technology, and humanists who believe human minds and cultures must fundamentally evolve to cope with the demands of modern technology.  Technology extremists tell us we do not need to fear climate change or resource shortages because the next set of innovative solutions will emerge as current problems become clear.  Humanists reply that most people are not able to cope with current demands of the modern world, so innovation is needed in psycho-social and cultural arenas.

At the Modernist/Self-Authored (Orange) psycho-social developmental stage, we have the history of technology-induced environmental degradation replaced by massive environmental clean-up programs which have largely mitigated the most severe effects in the developed world.[i]  Although China could not skip this cycle, their efforts to implement large-scale renewable energy into their power grid, something which the West has yet to master, suggest Asia will run the course in decades instead of centuries.  Five years ago, credible projections showed oil production had peaked and was no longer able to keep pace with increasing demand from the developing world.  Enter the technologists with fracking and we now see projections(1) that the world may have enough fossil fuels from oil shale to industrialize the developing world.  The 2015 drop in oil prices caused a crash in the fracking bubble, with negative consequences for both energy technology and environment.  Environmentalists predict the resultant jump in fossil fuel usage will push the climate beyond the tipping point, with disastrous consequences.  Technologists see time to perfect alternate energy sources.

There is a bifurcation in cutting edge ideas about how humans should be evolving.  Orange technologists envision a world where digital controlling devices are everywhere from smart appliances, to the electric grid and driverless cars, to wearable technology, such as Google glasses or smart watches.  Post-modern (Green) communitarians respond that our social systems are failing and technology is not improving people’s psychological lives.  They recommend “enlightenment” as a solution to the malaise that has produced an American culture where, upon release of the American Psychiatric Association’s newest DSM,[ii] some psychiatrists now estimate that over half the US population could have a diagnosable mental illness[iii].  This bifurcation does not appear to be a simple conflict between modern (Orange), individualistic thinking and post-modern (Green) communitarian feelings.  Within the growing community expressing 2nd Tier (beyond post-modern) capacity to work with post-modern complexity, we see the basic gap identified by Clare Graves[iv] between those most comfortable on the individualistic, Self-Expressive, left side of the developmental Spiral and communitarians whose natural preferences lean toward the Self-Sacrifice, right side.  Although 2nd Tier capacity comes with the ability to understand and appreciate the value of both the express self and the sacrifice self approaches, even individuals with great vertical capacity display a clear tendency to approach a problem starting from their preferred base.  Not surprisingly, technologists tend to be individualist thinkers who are more comfortable with the self-expressive approaches.

A post-post modern (Yellow) left-side analysis of life conditions comes from the large-systems and artificial intelligence fields.  Led by Ray Kurzweil[v], a computer engineer who developed optical character recognition and current speech recognition programs, and physicist David Deutsch[vi] this group looks at the evolution of the universe in terms of increasing complexity of information, including the massive information held within DNA and cortical neural nets.  In his latest book, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, Kurzweil synthesizes the latest neurological research and fifty years of computer innovation to explain how the human mind carries out complex tasks, such as speech recognition.  Since this understanding of how the brain works has led directly to functional speech recognition we now use in mobile devices, it’s hard to think his insights can be too far off base.  This line of thinking seems to be leading to the concept of replacing incompetent human decision-making with better artificial intelligence (AI) controls instead of developing human potential.

An alternate Yellow approach from right-side is well defined by Barrett Brown[vii], with his recommendation that “the ‛consciousness’ in Conscious Capitalism” be facilitated by active “Vertical learning” programs based on Bill Torbert’s eight-stage model for business applications.  Brown’s approach emphasizes the Green communitarian aspects of development such as emotional intelligence, inspiration and deep connection.  Not surprisingly, most of Barrett’s examples come from Green non-profits, social entrepreneurs, etc.  With the exception of a mapping of Warren Buffet’s public career to his increasing development level, Brown has little discussion of practical applications or actual examples of vertical leadership in large blue/Orange multi-nationals.

Leadership coach Mike Jay is now providing a synthesis of the two approaches in his book @F-L-O-W[viii] and related coaching programs.  Mike points out that we can look back on over 30 years of efforts at producing significant vertical growth using coaching and leadership programs.  Lack of widespread success suggests that few people are actually capable of making significant vertical change in time frames that allow them to cope with their immediate problems.  Jay recommends approaching the issue by identifying the individual’s current capacities, including stage of vertical development.  Instead of spending resources on developing new attitudes and behaviors that are not readily available to an individual, perhaps external support systems can scaffold people to produce the results they need to be happy without requiring “enlightenment”.  In addition to coaching and help from others, Kurzweil’s AI systems could offer some of this scaffolding, providing users with everything from safety reminders to real time coaching in interpersonal skills.

[i]       Sant, Roger, “This Time It’s Different: 40 Years of Energy Policy“, Total Energy USA, 2013,

[ii]        DSM-5, American Psychiatric Association,, 2013

[iii]       Lisa Collier Cool, DSM-5: Will millions more Americans be diagnosed with mental illness?,, 2013
Lane, Christopher, The NIMH Withdraws Support for DSM-5,, 2012

[iv]      Beck, Don E and Cowan, C, Spiral Dynamics Mastering Values, Leadership and Change, Blackwell Publishing, 1996

[v]        Kurzweil, Ray, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, Viking Adult, 2012

[vi]       Deutsch, David, The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World, Viking Adult, 2011
Constructor Theory,

[vii]      Brown , Barrett C., The Future of Leadership for Conscious Capitalism, MetaIntegral Associates, 2013.

[viii]     Jay, Mike, @F-L-O-W: Find, Design, Use Talent to Emerge Happiness and Success in a Postmodern World, Leadership University Press, 2012

Excerpt from: Innovative Development: Emerging Worldviews and Systems Change, Vol 1.  “Technology And Innovation:  An SDi Analysis and Recommendations”, Barbara N. Brown, 2015.

Orange/Green/Yellow: What do the colors mean?