The human nervous system consists of two main parts, the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS consists of the brain and the spinal cord, while the PNS is comprised of many nerves of enclosed bundles of the long fibers or axons.

The basic functioning of the nervous system depends on a lot of tiny cells called neurons which have many specialized jobs. The human body cannot function without the CNS as it controls all parts of the body, receives and interprets messages from all parts and transmits instructions causing the body to react.

How is this relevant to technology? If we assume that technology is the globe’s nervous system, we understand its complexity in current and future digital societies across the globe.

One of the major threats we currently face is the misuse of technology. By 2030, the digital transformation will have reached critical mass with unprecedented volumes of information available to users through networks across the globe, exposing our critical infrastructures to both threats and opportunities at a pace never seen before. Ensuring that all societies stay ahead of technology threats and leverage it for the good, requires inclusive solutions developed by stakeholders from all backgrounds across all strata of society.

If we look at human nervous systems, the billions of tiny little cells each have a core function that is critical for the well-functioning of the body. Each of these tiny cells has a distinct function and none of them are alike.

Thus, if we compare it to technology, having predominantly homogeneous teams with similar backgrounds developing technology solutions in this digital age is a problem. It makes the world’s nervous system weak, vulnerable, suboptimal and ultimately affects its CNS with as a result crippled infrastructure. Sounds dramatic?

WannaCry and the cyber-attacks that followed seem just the beginning of testing the resiliency of societies across the globe against all kinds of technology threats.

 


Luckily there is also good news as digital ecosystems of startups and entrepreneurs, small, medium and tech giants are developing cutting-edge technology to ensure CNS and PNS stay intact.

Tech innovation is used across a variety of sectors from health to defense and security, but there is still a long way ahead in tackling the 21st-century technology challenges. Both CNS and PNS requires a comprehensive approach to protecting and nurturing its growth which is based on many different, complex and interrelated parameters. Employing solutions developed by homogeneous teams will not get us very far in staying on top and ahead of the fast-paced technological developments. I can only speak from my own experience and take as an example the untapped potential for the defense and security sector.

A diverse and inclusive workforce for generations to come

A diverse and inclusive approach is vital in adapting to current and future security challenges and must include a broad ecosystem of stakeholders with different cultural, technical, racial, gender and social backgrounds across the civil-military spectrum. Yet asking a long-ingrained and homogeneous security culture to change and embrace diversity in its broadest sense is an ambitious and complex endeavor. You can read more in my previous article on why unconscious bias plays an important part in all this.

There are efforts underway reducing the gender gap in the tech sector, which is a promising start. But diversity beyond gender in building an inclusive workforce of next generations who are already tech-savvy is essential. Diversity in its broadest sense which is representative of all strata in society is not only the right thing to do but the smart thing. Just having more people from different backgrounds working in a specific sector to tick the diversity representation box is not enough.

It is well known that diverse teams from all backgrounds are more innovative and productive in producing groundbreaking solutions. Building these teams at all levels and across sectors and societies is what will bring results in my view.

My fellow GMF Marshall Memorial Fellow Keerthika Subramanian wrote an insightful piece on the need and urgency of building an inclusive transatlantic workforce for technology.

Building bridges across sectors

Building bridges between government, tech, business sectors and civil society which are highly affected by the rapid technological change will only grow in importance.

More nations should follow Denmark’s example and appoint a TechAmbassador. Casper Klynge and his team are making a real difference in bridging this gap across sectors and foster understanding of the impact technology has on individuals and societies across the globe. You can find out more here on the Danish initiative of #Techplomacy.

On the defense side, the visionary thought leader General Denis Mercier is leading NATO’s strategic command in the United States. General Mercier has been passionate and driven in tapping into the private and civil society’s full potential to help transforms military’s capacity in this digital era. Disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and autonomous systems are evolving faster than we may believe thus the human dimension is as critical as ever. His latest article on Innovation is also a must-read.

These are just some examples, but there are many more individuals out there who take their role as transformational change leaders very seriously and are taking action to make a difference. They are taking action to ensure the world’s nervous system is protected and societies across the globe are not crippled by the misuse of technology but thrive on its transformational power.

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Looking ahead

Digital transformation and next-generation tech innovation will not stop; on the contrary, it will continue to evolve and impact all strata of society for the good and for worse. The choice is ours on how and what we invest in mitigating the bad and seizing the good.

Understanding the implications digital transformation has on the social constructs, identities, and values and how they will impact increased cooperation between government and civil societies in addressing global tech challenges is another daunting endeavor; an endeavor I will share my insights on in a future article.

Through my own comparison of the human nervous systems and technology, I hope this article has scratched the tip of the iceberg on the complexity of technology challenges all societies are facing; and the urgent need for a diverse and inclusive approach across sectors and generations to save us from becoming crippled.

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