Business and technology are powerful forces which have shaped – and continue to reshape – each other and the world in which we live.
This series of five workshops brings together business leaders, technologists, and academics to consider, from a Christian perspective, the systemic issues facing business in light of technological advances, and the challenges and opportunities arising from these.
This first session considers what the problems inherent to unending consumption and growth are, and whether technology can save us from them.
Dr. Winnie FUNG, PhD in business economics, Harvard University
Dr. Kelvin HO, PhD in business and management, University of South Australia
Session 1: Consumerism and Growth
Sometime in recent history people were sold the idea that economic growth was good, and that it was always good. This ties in nicely with the idea that people should consume things – the more, the better – and that people can be seen primarily as consumers. Technology has driven consumption (we get a new phone every year) as it has facilitated consumption (we can extract resources at a rate previously impossible). Economic growth has its place: it has brought people out of poverty and improved living standards across the globe. Endless growth and consumption, however, are significantly problematic. A Christian perspective can help identify the problems, and sketch what form solutions might take. It is up for discussion the extent to which technology – which played a key role in the problems – can play a role in the solutions.
Session 2: Disruption of Technology: How to face the uncertain future in business and education
The revolutions caused by robotics, artificial intelligence and social media are transforming the way business can be done, and is being done. Such technological disruptions lead to two disruptions in education: First, we cannot keep teaching like we did before; the future will be radically different, and we must prepare our students accordingly. Second: we do not need to teach like we did before; technological changes offer us opportunities to do things differently. With so much in flux, it is both possible and necessary to bring a Christian perspective to bear on how we build the way forward. Based on experiences of teaching entrepreneurship to “Generation Z” university students, this talk will consider the needs and possibilities for educating entrepreneurs of the future.
Session 3: Moving Beyond Zero Impact
Conservation, zero emissions, circular economies, "leave no trace" all aim at the same thing: zero impact. How can we go beyond this to realise the richness of the positive impact implicit in a biblical view of humanity's role in cultivating the world?
“Zero impact” frames the situation as saying that any impact humans have is bad. In such a case, we might as well not be here. Indeed, if we just wanted to ensure humans had zero impact on the environment, the easiest and fastest solution is quietly dispose of 7 billion people. That conclusion should raise a red flag. At very least, a biblical perspective requires that we view a world with humans as better than a world without them. Given humanity’s biblical mandate to tend, curate, and cultivate the world, we should be aiming to have an impact on the world, and making sure it is a good one. As such, while it is good that the mindset of “zero impact” questions consumerism, it replaces it with a view of humanity and our role on earth that is deeply at odds with a Christian view of man, and which needs to be rethought.
This fourth session considers how technology is reshaping the structure of business, what the consequences of that are, and how we can engage as Christians in this milieu.
Dr. Peter LIU, PhD in engineering, McMaster University, Canada, specializing in Optimization
Tse "T" FUNG WONG, co-founder and CEO of EdFuture and e2Sports
Session 4: Technology and the Global Order of Business
Technology is changing how business can be done, and what business can be done. These changes will necessarily disrupt business models at every level, transforming the business landscape. The changes being wrought are not simple or unidirectional. On the one hand, technology is a democratizing force; putting unprecedented power in the hands of individuals (almost anyone can write an app, or make a film). On the other hand, it is a monopolizing force; concentrating unprecedented power in the hands of a few mega-organizations (Google, Amazon, Monsanto). This ambivalent trend can happen simultaneously, and within the same company (eBay is a big company that helps individuals buy and sell).
How can Christians involved in this milieu be aware of, understand, and engage with the issues: the opportunities and problems associated with concentration of power, diffusion of power, or changing of how power is distributed.
This final session reflects on Neil Postman's definition of commodification as “buying and selling a thing without reference to its meaning or context.” In light of this, we will consider how to re-insert meaning and context into business.
Dr. LEUNG Wing Tai, PhD in communication, Regent University
Dr. Mike BROWNNUTT, PhD in experimental quantum mechanics, Imperial College London
Session 5: Un-commodifying the World
This talk aims to understand the relational order. How do we relate to God, to each other, and to the world around us? Business is often blind to relational factors. (If business exists to maximise profits, it fosters relationship only if that is a by-product of maximising profits.) Techno-values are often antithetical to relational factors. (Relationships is slow, inefficient, and hard to quantify: everything that technology excises.) Now aware of these issues, how do we go forward in our thinking about business and business technology?
It is not possible to divorce the material aspects of life from wider questions encompassing people, nature, and God. Bricks and mortar, for example, are never just bricks and mortar: they have meaning, significance, and purpose; assigned both by humans and by God. In any given situation, there therefore exist multiple, incommensurate goods. Optimising one (such as profit, or speed) without consideration of the others is simple, and entirely misses the necessary complexity of the situation. In plotting a course forward, we must wrestle with the fact that simultaneously optimising, or at very least considering, multiple incommensurate goods is difficult, and nonetheless necessary.