10 years, 5 months ago

Technology imitates Life far more than Life imitates Technology

Link: http://eamitabh.blogspot.com/2010/10/technology-imitates-life-far-more-than.html

Oscar Wilde the great Irish poet, writer and thinker wrote in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”.

Now why would a CTO start his new blog entry with this quote? The reason is simple. What I experienced and observed during my last week’s visit to Japan could not be summarised by any more complex or simple set of terms. I had to go back more than 100 years to find a set of quotes which will make sense of modern human and technology behaviour. Hence the title of this blog entry which rhymes on the famous Wilde quote. Let me explain…

I spent a week in Japan visiting Fujitsu Labs and to collaborate with my Japanese colleagues on our next generation of innovative technologies. While (for commercial confidentiality reasons) I can not comment on specifics of any Lab technologies and products, I can reveal that I noticed something which sent me searching for the Wilde theme.

What I noticed was that the set of innovations, the themes of research and the search for next generation of ground-breaking technologies was embedded in what I term as the essence of Japanese way of life, its necessities, values and culture. Which itself is not a surprise. We at Fujitsu take pride in our Japanese roots and influence. That indeed is one of our differentiators in the competitive market place.

But the Fujitsu reference simply serves an illustration purpose here. I am sure similar themes can be found if I would have visited Sony Labs or Panasonic Labs somewhere else in Japan. The point is that I could easily see patterns where next generation of technology advances were modelled on anticipated future human society behaviour. The innovation was based on educated guesswork of trends which will hit our living societies. Example might be themes such as Mobility or Personalisation or Desire for Social Connectivity.

I did not see the arrogant claims of “this technology will change your lives” rather I observed humble and polite urge to follow projected future human behaviour; which in a way is providing subtle leadership leveraging smart technology. Be it Language translation or Sensory networks the leading edge technology devices were gently guiding us in forward direction which we can certainly agree with as natural society progression.

And then came the experience which hit me the hardest during the week, which drove me in search of Wilde quote while beating my jet-lag.

It was end of the long and (jet-lagged) hard day for UK contingent on our way back from the Labs. We changed a couple subway trains on our way back to downtown hotel. It must have been around 10 pm. While we are used to close to empty tube stations at this hour back home in London, we were greeted by stations which were full of smartly dressed Japanese men and women heading back from work to their homes. They were walking in all directions, taking all sorts of connecting trains to disappear in their suburbs. They did not look dazzlingly fresh and enthusiastic as they appeared in the morning. But most of them appeared determined to trace similar paths back to their respective offices, next morning. We kept walking upwards now. As now we came to main station halls we encountered more such people but now these were relaxing in small cafes catching on their dinners, suppers, coffees or whatever their routine demanded. Some of them were in pairs, some were alone. We would be later told that, this was not a one-off evening. These scenes are common in Tokyo. This is how Tokyo works. Hard work, persistence, diligent efforts, attention to detail comes at the cost of long hours, long commutes and more dinners away from home.

My one week in Tokyo does not make me expert commentator on Japanese social life. It is far more complex topic to be simplified in blog. But it symbolised the life behind those technology innovations which I had seen earlier. I started making sense of those social media, mobility, sensory network and translation software applications and devices far more than before. The dry Lab efforts and outcomes appeared a lot of life-relevant now. The urge of Lab engineers to craft technologies and innovations which make life simpler and more meaningful became visibly simple.

Generalisation is a terrible thing but a poetic thought did cross my mind that, a stroll in German park at the end of the day or busy walk in Russian rush-hour would offer me similar simplistic yet reasonable justification behind next set of German innovation or Russian technology advances. Globalisation is inspired by locals!

It is the human efforts, thoughts, drive, dedication which drives human societies forward. Technology simply provides tools for this advancement. Technology simply imitates life. Often far more than Life imitating Technology! The earlier next generation of technology leaders understand this the better equipped they will be to make convincing business cases for technology investment, designs which solve real business processes and problems and deliver services which make lives simpler.