Talk about Agile and Organic Action!

Life is full!

How do we make time to make progress against those things that are not urgent but potentially extremely important for all of us?

As the pace of life accelerates we find ourselves ever-more deeply entrenched in routines punctuated with more frequent distractions.  Attention spans are shrinking.  The scope of strategic perspectives is narrowing. I don’t know… maybe its just me?

So how do we get into a meaningful conversation about the big issues like the ethical questions surrounding AI?

Those of us who enjoy trying to wrap our heads around such issues often struggle to find time with other patient thinkers to sort out the many complicated ins and out of these emerging issues. If you don’t make much progress it gets discouraging.

A subject like the civil impacts of AI are linked to not only the accelerating pace of disruptive technology that is AI in its many manifestations, but also simultaneously emerging technologies of blockchain, the internet of things, and the cloud, not to mention the continuous creep of well established software into all aspects of the modern workplace.

But add to this the complexities of the economy (is it the knowledge economy, sharing economy, the gig economy?) The whole idea of automation is to displace human labour and or improve on it. And add to this the politics of economics – who is going to acquire power by owning AI? Will power and influence be evenly distributed? Will large AI-based companies get an early advantage and concentrate control over wider public access to AI? AI has the potential to scale quickly and easily.

Add to this the social and cultural aspects of modern life. Are kids growing up exposed to a healthy variety of life experiences? Will they grow up and into healthy relationships? Who decides how much exposure to video games and social media is good or bad? We don’t even have consistent reliable data for longitudinal analysis.

Enter the Conversation

Much has been said lately about the advantages of a cluster of smart methods, such as lean management, agile project management, rapid prototyping and so on. What can we learn from these methods to help us start a conversation on big complex issues like AI and its implications?

Many people lament the loss of traditional friendship and community. Some people may have missed the departure while others may still be clinging to it faithfully. Some have managed to avoid the trappings of social media but are like outcasts, luddites, living in the past. I hope our social instincts can still carry us to a revival.

Each new technology, fad or fashion, has its cycle yet also leaves a legacy. Over the past 25 years of the web our society has changed dramatically in some ways. Social media and the pace of disruptive technologies in general have fundamentally altered the civil cadence. Even prominent authors admit they no longer read much. As their brains have been tapped out on textual information they now prefer video and audio productions.

When I first invited people to participate in an open forum, I was thinking about something more formal than conversation, such as a systems and design workshop. The subject matter of AI and its ethical implications is intense and complex and it would demand some serious methodologies to wrestle with them and to pin down the issues.

Then I talked with Ken Chapman over drink’s at Perry’s Seance (Chateau Louis Friday PM).  He said we should take a more casual approach at first and let it evolve. I was reminded of the agile, lean and prototyping approaches to new product innovation. It made a lot of sense. Much has been done on strategic, systems and design thinking, but this approach is more like a collaboration method. It builds team conversation capacity.

A few years ago we had a fad variously called “philosopher’s cafes” or “conversation cafes“. We now have the “un-conference“. What is happening may be a bite-sizing of conversations. Can we start a simple conversation on weighty issues by simply setting a time and place and a topic? I think so. In fact, I am thinking it has to start there.

There is something compelling about starting with something as natural as a conversation over coffee.  Are there rules? Probably, but simple ones that make intuitive sense. Is there a goal? Yes, but a general one. We don’t necessarily have, or need to start with a clear and distinct idea of where the conversation will lead. Will it make a difference? If people who participate feel they have a better sense of how the issues play out then that may be enough. Other people may be emboldened to strive for more than mere understanding.


Where can this go?  We can explore and pivot, bring many backgrounds to the game, and see what happens with as little effort as a conversation takes. How can we lose? Stay tuned for next steps as you and others add your thoughts to this forum. I think we will be seeing each other in person soon.

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.“