Tech Humanist Shows How to Make Technology Better


Tech Humanist notes how technology must be developed better for businesses and people. Whether you are a consumer of it or a developer on a team  - your sensibilities will be enlightened to be alert to opportunities to better your company culture, your operations, and just maybe, the lives of those who encounter your business.

Tech Humanist - How You Can Make Technology Better for Humans

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Tech Humanist

If 2020 will come to mean anything to business owners, the year will be about making real life and digital life instances genuine for customers.  The reckoning Facebook experienced in 2018, combined with a stronger effort to combat fraudulent social media content in 2019, reflects the societal desire for meaningful interactions.

When it comes to tech, business owners must ask themselves “How do we know that we are effectively interacting with people?” The thought is considerable given that more people are using mobile devices to access online, creating confusion on whether or not businesses are engaging with a consumer versus a bot.

One person who has put some real thought into these concerns is Kate O’Neil. She has launched a new book called Tech Humanist:  How You Can Make Technology Better for Business and Better for Humans. A popular keynote speaker, O’Neil has authored several books focused on personal behavior and interaction through business, data, and technology. She provides a riveting view of how businesses can leverage these facets to define a socially-conscious purpose for the people they serve.

What Is Tech Humanist About?

Note that I write the word “people” instead of “customers”. That choice reflects the heart of O’Neil’s thesis for the book. O’Neil writes about humanity at scale — the ideas that our “technology deployments and data models need to be built around our best inclinations”. Within a business context, it means knowing how your purpose and objectives align, never losing sight of the human experience.

“How do you ready your business for the future, guard against platform disruption, and embrace emerging technology when it’s relevant…Meaning isn’t merely an altruistic principle when we think about its value to humans; it also benefits business. Meaning takes the shape of purpose, which allows for focus, prioritization, clarity of direction, etc., which ultimately facilitates growth, scale, profit.”

Humanity at scale also means identifying how some tech aggravates the bypass of societal treatment of people. She notes a number of examples, such as questioning how cashless retail automation will be a societal benefit:

“For whom is Amazon Go a benefit? Most people looking at it would start by observing it’s bad news for cashiers if those jobs go away…The focus on the specific role of customer experience allows us to overlook the human experience of those who occupy the role of employee…It’s all too easy for intelligent automation and the scale comes with it to have disproportionate benefits and not only reinforce but widen existing wealth inequality – those who have money to invest will make exponentially more money.”

Learn to Manage your Technical Resources

The result of this is to learn how to manage technical resources holistically, such as raising data and analytic literacy:

“It is important to promote data analysis literacy throughout the company. It is important to promote data analysis and received throughout the company. How to read insights from data, analytics comment and metrics. Challenge your organization to become more agile with data common, while also being more protective of it.”

The treatment of tech in the book does not reach deep programming topics, so readers who anxiously debate the merits of NoSQL versus SQL will have to table such thoughts. But O’Neil’s commentary complement problem solving and scientific approaches, methodologies that are desperately needed in machine learning and analytics initiatives today. Take this suggestion on acting on data:

“Make hypothesis, review the results, consider what you learn from them. Bring your learnings back into the organization.”

Analytics practitioners certainly recognize the value of that statement. O’Neil then shows how the activity aligns marketplace opportunity to humanist values:

“When your purpose is represented in strategy that is dimensionalized in brand and culture and modeled through data and amplified thought technology, everything you learn stands to come back to the top and feed back nuance about how that purpose aligns with what people in the marketplace need.”

What I liked about Tech Humanist

I liked that O’Neil covered a number of very recent incidences such as Jack Dorsey’s testimony before Congress back in September. Those insights reflect how thorough O’Neil was with her research, certain that the book’s thesis will speak to readers in 2019 and beyond.

I also like how much of what O’Neil concentrates on touches on ethics with technology – recognizing the current challenges as well. Here’s her comment on that Twitter congressional hearing:

“It’s much harder to retro fit meaningful human outcomes around profit driven objectives than the other way around.”

Another nice touch is the notes regarding inclusion, with a note on the generic gender-neutral singular usage of the word “they”. The pronoun is used throughout the book as a nod to inclusive language.

What Complements Tech Humanist

One book complements Tech Humanist. That book is Yes To The Mess. I reviewed it a few years ago. But the book still intrigues with ideas for managing chaos. Yes To The Mess offers management tips for uncertainty. While Tech Humanists gives a great follow up for business leaders. It fills their need to next address values.

O’Neil’s comment on tech relevancy made me immediately think of another good pairing. This includes 400-plus page opus Bricklin On Technology. Bricklin’s book is a bit old now.  It refers to even older tech. The perspectives from Bricklin’s past combine with O’Neil’s business acumen. The combination ads up to enlightened reading.

Ultimately Tech Humanist stands on its own. It notes how technology must be better for businesses. And looks how it improves the lives of humans alike.

Why Tech Humanist

Reading Tech Humanist alters your feelings towards scaling your business. Do so with your technology and values intact. It makes no difference whether you are a consumer or a developer on a team. It enlightens your sensibilities. And makes you alert to opportunities. How do you better your company culture? How do you improve your operations? And just maybe, it will help the lives of those who encounter your business.

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Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.