Do you feel like a slave? I bet your answer is no. Ok. Let me rephrase the question. Have you ever felt like you weren’t free to do as you wished? Mmmm…that one’s harder, isn’t it? Well, don’t give up on liberty just yet. Sometimes, the quest for total freedom builds irresistible leaders. Terminator was the first robot to develop human emotions in our generation. Well, that is if you don’t count Pinoccio, who was, in fact, the only kind of robot people could imagine before steel, machines and computers invaded our lives. Anyway.
Terminator came back from the future to help a boy prepare for war against an impersonal empire dominated by the very software programs and engineering devices humanity had created. We loved him so much that two more movies ensued, and don’t be surprised if he comes back yet again. A horribly grey, lifeless world dominated my impersonal machines was a deep fear in our collective minds that we all responded strongly to. Nobody wanted that to happen. The movie Matrix, several years later, also touched upon that same hidden worry of ours with lots of success.
Today, once again, our hidden fears about technology’s growing grip on our lives are alive and well. Jon Ander García, Continental Tires’ General Manager for Iberia and EMEA, came to Capital Radio’s morning talk show today to discuss some of their latest innovations. He hadn’t finished his first sentence before we plunged into the opportunities and threats of increasingly intelligent cars: Do you really mean we’ll be able to read the paper on the way to work as our car drives itself through traffic jams, finds a place to park itself and then finishes the full job? But in case of an accident, who shall we blame? Yes. It’s the same debate. And it’s getting hotter as we speak.
Machines are taking over a lot of our simplest daily routines, theoretically to free us up for more entertaining, value adding tasks, as Ander García assured us. Still, complex algorithms, cookies and all sorts of legal and illegal research tactics on internet are creeping up on our privacy, anticipating our preferences with geo-locators and selling juicy details about our online habits to who knows who. Are we being liberated or are we being enslaved by a new era of automation? Because in our growing world of oversized cities, huge corporations, and our most impersonal enormous creation yet, “big data”, we inevitably feel smaller and smaller. We seem to work harder and harder. And judging by black circles under the eyes of too many executives, we seem to enjoy our jobs less and less. Big decisions are made elsewhere.
Unquestionable policies are designed in remote headquarters. Innovation is imposed on us more often than pushed by us. Historians say slavery appeared with large civilizations. It didn’t exist in previous, tribal societies where everybody pulled their own weight in the face of Nature’s cruel uncertainty. It was only when the invention of agriculture secured food supply that humanity began to think bigger. As villages and empires became larger, big numbers of bodies were needed to keep the wheels of civilization running. Bodies without choice or will of their own.
Bodies who would be kept alive in exchange for their freedom. And herein lies the clue. Fear. Always fear. If you’re not afraid, nobody can turn you into a slave. No warrior, no arrogant Emperor, no lifeless machine. Fear is what holds us back, once and again throughout history, as individuals and as a species. To fight for our freedom is to conquer our own fear. This is how our most charismatic leaders were built. What are we scared of? Nothing and everything. We’re scared of losing our jobs. We fear public humiliation or judgment if we step off the train of corporate career success.
We’re scared of losing our homes, our possessions, our loved ones’ affections, our ambiguous places in impersonal cities where nobody really cares about yesterday’s news. We’re terrified of violence and power in other people’s hands. We’re scared of risk itself. We may be the most fearsome generation that ever lived on this planet. Thus, we seek to control our lives like no other generation before us. We develop technology to increase our grasp on uncertainty, and reduce it to nothing.
We give up growing parcels of privacy and independence in order to be kept alive. Ironically, we are more vulnerable to slavery than ever before as a species. Will machines and publicly traded corporations take over our lives? Only if we let them. Only if we use them to hide from what scares us. Only if we keep escaping our fears instead of facing them. Only if we forget where we come from. All aboriginal warrior training rituals around the world were designed to help youths face and conquer their own fears.
The day they stood their ground and breathed through their bodies’ tremors, their minds’ doubts and imaginary ghosts, they became adults. That day they experienced the kind of trust that nobody could ever take from them. The trust that comes from feeling yourself conquer and dissolve your own inner phantoms at all times. We need to relearn these ancient skills of emotional grounding once again.
We must develop our technology and grow our companies on the same grounded mindset that guided our earliest ancestors. Trusting leadership and bravery are encoded in our DNA. Humans were never designed to live in slavery. Freedom is our middle name.