Creating digital makers through digital intelligence
- Posted on May 27, 2022
- Estimated reading time 5 minutes
Have you ever been in a situation that required you to utilize emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence helps individuals recognize, understand, and manage their own emotions as well as recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others. This skill is built over time through repeated experiences and encounters, and it’s integral to our livelihood. I liken emotional intelligence to a survival tactic that helps us better navigate the world we occupy. An individual who has not mastered the art of digital intelligence will deeply struggle to understand the implications of technology.
Coined by Dr. Yuhyun Park, digital intelligence refers to a comprehensive set of technical, cognitive, meta-cognitive, and socio-emotional competencies that are grounded in universal moral values and that enable individuals to face the challenges and harness the opportunities of digital life. This means our actions are governed by our ability to acquire knowledge and then utilize that knowledge to navigate structures put in place by our digital world for the betterment of humanity. Because the world we live in is heavily influenced by the digital landscape, it is important that all individuals, regardless of socioeconomic background, cultivate this knowledge. Our collective future depends on our ability to comprehend how our digital lives are improved, worsened, or manipulated by evolving technologies.
Just as there are consequences for disregarding emotional intelligence, there are consequences for disregarding digital intelligence. In the context of emotional intelligence, it might look like a delayed project with heavy financial implications because colleagues are not able to listen to one another with empathy. In the context of digital intelligence, it could look like unknowingly deploying artificial intelligence with racist, sexist or agist programming. Perhaps the team failed to test and consider how their biases could potentially be encoded in the algorithmic model. In this context, while it may have not been the intent to program discriminatory ideology into code, genuine intent is not enough to limit widespread consequences. It is good to be genuine, but it is critical to also make informed decisions based on those intentions.
The need to cultivate digital intelligence
We see organizations across all industries taking the initiative to navigate these complex topics with digital ethics practices and programs. Executives are realizing that a comprehensive digital strategy should include aspects such as diversity in decision makers, sustainability, transparency in design, governance, and a strong culture of responsible engineering. Organizations have taken the time to have frank discussions about the implications of their products, while consulting with external experts and investing in responsible innovation. When organizations get this wrong, their reputation, brand, and revenue stand to be impacted. But when they get it right, they’re likely to see higher satisfaction among employees and customers or new business opportunities from investors and partners who have similar goals.
Simultaneously, as important as it is for organizations to get digital ethics right, it is equally important for individuals to take responsibility. It is not enough to solely rely on organizations to lead the charge. We must understand what it looks like to implement an ethical approach in our respective communities and roles. That includes having substantial conversations about the impacts of technology, ideally with people of different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. These conversations help us develop, cultivate, and sustain our digital intelligence.
Two ways to cultivate digital intelligence
My recommendations for cultivating digital intelligence are straightforward. One recommendation is to introduce the topic of digital ethics to children and young adults as they learn more about technology. We should convey that they do not have to compete against technologies like artificial intelligence, but instead, that they are to be the shapers of such technologies. They are to be critical thinkers as they examine how technology can contribute to the good of humanity. It benefits our society if leaders of tomorrow can grasp and develop their digital intellect early on. As history collides with technology, they will need to learn about historic events like the 2008 Housing Crisis in America and how models encoded with human prejudice, misunderstanding, and bias were programmed into software systems that managed the financial market (Source: Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, O'Neil, C. (2016)). They will need learn about racial profiling and how artificial intelligence has contributed to mass incarceration. Educators must advocate for this knowledge be part of their student’s repertoire as they will eventually occupy positions that require critical thinking in our digital world.
Second, when it comes to the topic of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, we should all take into consideration situations for which technology is not the right solution. There is this notion that artificial intelligence is useful and practical in all situations. At what point do we stop as say, “Perhaps this tool is not needed” or “Is there a better alternative?” Just because the technology exists does not mean it has to be applied. Critical thinking needs to be applied so that we drive technology and not the other way around. Developing digital intelligence in this sense can help us explore what it means to address the problems that plague our society.
The path forward
We all have a personal responsibility to develop our digital intellect so we can better navigate the difficult decisions we’re sure to face in the near future. Decisions can have generational consequences and it could take massive amounts of time and resources to reverse certain negative outcomes. Because of the magnitude of impact technology can have, ethical concerns should have a large audience among global organizations as well as everyday tech users. For those who work in tech, we become better technologists if we are able bring this understanding to our work. For those who work outside of tech, consider your input to be just as valuable as we develop this intellect across all socioeconomic backgrounds.
Now that you have this information, I challenge you to take the time to develop your own digital intelligence. The world needs its critical thinkers and decision makers to be the shapers of today and tomorrow.
As always, we look forward to your input, and if you’re interested in a more in-depth discussion or help on this topic, you can contact us directly or post a comment below.