Saturday, August 22, 2015

Empathy is not just human, it is the basis for collaboration and survival

A friend pointed me to a post on Empathy and the Global Corporation. A long well written intriguing post that addressed the growing concern about the "rank and yank" system that apparently works well at Amazon, but hasn't really caught on at other companies (and thus hurt their profitability) because human beings work better when empathised with rather than being treated like robots. Which brings any CEO to the logical conclusion that they actually could replace their employees with robots which would help them save costs and beat the competition, thereby gaining a more loyal customer-base. A customer base (read "you and me") who are equally un-empathetic about others; and wanting the best products and service at the lowest cost.
So in the blame-game, the blame shifts from the cruel CEO's to us.

I've interviewed with Amazon, and although I did see some signs of the uncaring nature, I also did see efficiency and caring. I believe that in every random sample of a human population, you will always find the nurturing as well as the selfishness. It's how the human psyche is built.

But I don't see a decrease in empathy around the world. In fact, empathy is increasing exponentially. There were times in the past where people would direct visually impaired people to walk into a ditch. Times when people would laugh uncontrollably at a mentally challenged person muttering gibberish. Times when people would knock off a person's crutches just to see them struggle to get up again. Times when women were denied basic rights. Times when people would laugh at what they thought was a backward culture.
I see less of that happening now. With better information, education and communication across people and cultures, empathy and understanding has grown manifold. That's why as mentioned in greatbong's article, the HR person asks their superiors “What kind of company do we want to be?”.

A similar line of thought was mentioned to me by my colleague. His teacher said that technology has ruined the world. I disagreed. I asked him: "If technology remained primitive and humans just kept multiplying, then wouldn't forests keep getting destroyed? Won't the water and air continue getting polluted? As humans take over the world, won't they eventually reach a compromise with each other but continue destroying the world?".

The real problem at hand is not technology or profitability.
The problem is population.
Two generations ago, the world was still an ok place to live in. And that was the time that people thought it was ok to have 4 children per family. Before that, people were ok with having 8 or even 14 children per family!!! All those mouths to feed and all those living bodies required the resources of the world.  A problem, one would say was addressed by technology and profitability: Creating more space for humans, packing more animals into smaller areas in farms, building transport systems and factories for mass production and delivery, injecting and spraying veggies and fruits with chemicals.
There were the needs of the population, and they had to be met. When the government can ban cloning and monitor a host of destructive attitudes and technology, then why didn't the government prevent pollution? Why didn't the government make laws that could have saved us all this trouble?

----- digression -----
Did you know that in 1996, General Motors created a beautiful, fast electric car that ran for 90 miles on a single charge? They gave it a trial run with 300 Californians and then took back all the cars and crushed them.

See the video on youtube, where even Tom Hanks expresses how much he loved the car. Some people say it was because there was too much money remaining to be made from selling oil. General Motors says it's because they felt people wouldn't buy a car that expensive. I believe there's also the element of a lot of people losing their jobs because electric cars need neither fuel nor maintenance. It doesn't even have an engine. Just batteries. Countries with high unemployment, also see a rise in crime and riots. Something you'd have faced while playing Caesar-3 :-)

----- end of digression -----

 If the needs of the population aren't met, bigger, unsolvable problems will crop up, leading to a more violent, selfish world. Technology and efficiency can help address these problems. Governments only ban technologies that can cause gross problems, so less-noticeable destructive technologies manage to continue surviving.

Although people fear robots may take our jobs one day and AI would be so dominant that they could take over human civilization, I don't think that's going to happen. Humans are too smart for that.
What we will do instead, is find ways to embed technology into us. We will strengthen our bodies with metal. Add processing power and information access to our brains. Perhaps even entirely replace our bodies with a synthetic material that has our consciousness. Imagine a world where you would never feel hungry. A world where you never fall sick. A world where you could replace a damaged part of your body. Where you could use technology and efficiency to travel to other planets or even create a self-sustaining home in the void of space. Don't discourage efficiency or data or smartness. It helps us take better decisions. And in reality, it helps build more empathy. For as long as we choose to be human, that is.

But even with such a high level of efficiency, would we still give up what it means to be human? It's a question that cannot be answered by a brain that still requires to bond with others or cares for others. But even a machine would eventually figure out "division of labour". The whole reason why a bond exists between anything that is conscious.
History has been witness to the Hemlock Society. An organization that neither accepted the authority of the State nor the authority of Religion. It collapsed. Without the bonding and caring for others, not even an intelligent machine would survive.

For as long as a consciousness wishes to survive, "Empathy" will exist and flourish. Destructive, selfish behaviours will exist in the universe. But that's not an indication of a lack of nurturing and care. For every yin there is a yang.

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