Top Reasons Why Technology Needs the Humanities
The first half of the new millennium spelt a massive change in academia, as studies showed a consistent decline of students choosing humanities as their college majors. With radical changes in the way technology was being employed across the board, the job market had seemingly little need for literature, philosophy, history, or art (which took the worst beating).
Do these perceptions hold true? Not just that the numbers can be read differently for these studies (as all numbers often do), but also that since the last five years, there has been an increased requirement, a necessity of the humanities in tech. And today, it seems to be a consensus that STEM does need the humanities, and most educators will acknowledge that “STEM does not happen in a vacuum. It effects, and it effected by, philosophy, design, economics and other aspects of the humanities.”5
In 2017, the Harvard Business Review spoke about it, in 2018, the entrepreneur Eric Berridge gave a TED Talk on it and The Atlantic had an article on it, and there are about 177,000,000 results on this question through the Google search engine. And tech companies, as big as Mozilla, are looking at humanities students, to ensure that
So, here are the top five reasons tech needs the humanities:
- Interpretation - While the computers we build and the programs we make for them are amazing at analyzing data, it takes a human hand to understand what they have done, and it takes a human mind to covert that data into text (Text here meaning assemblages of elements of signification)
- Impact – How does technology impact humans? Rarely is the end result of a piece of technology for another piece of technology. At the end of the road, technology is built to aid and sustain humanity. Computers have yet to fully self-arbitrate their usefulness. Humanities can analyze how technology can be used for the detriment or betterment of all. As Kathy Pham, the computer scientist at Mozilla said in this article published in The Guardian, “Students of computer science go on to be the next leaders and creators in the world, and must understand how code intersects with human behaviour, privacy, safety, vulnerability, equality, and many other factors.
- Ethics – “With technology a part of pretty much everything at this point, questions about what is right, what is fair, what is best for humans as technology advances, are getting lost in the rush for innovation.” 2 This is where the humanities can step in to guide and assist. Artificial intelligence is not yet at a point where it can carefully and thoughtfully determine its own ethics and morals. For a more current example, self-driving cars have yet to demonstrate how they value one life over another. While current statistics show that most autonomous vehicle accidents are caused by humans3, consider a situation where a self-driving car must make a choice: either hit a pedestrian on the road, or swerve to the side and most likely cause their driver serious injury or death. How does the car choose? This is a question that only humanities can address. Humanities can create the systems and structures for how we address ethical problems in and emerging from the technological world.
- Discussion – Technology cannot describe itself without human input. As scholars in the fields of the humanities, it is incumbent on us to engage in discussion about the current history and use of technology, and where it is going. While technology continues to outpace human labor in many industries and areas, it is still lacking in the field of academic discourse. This may be something that technology grows into being a participant or, or may not. “We can understand, then, how the remarkable amount of scholarship on meaning ambiguity and language polysemy typical of the humanities can come as an extremely valuable help and actual operational toolkit for contemporary data science.” 1
- Expanding horizons – Combining technology and humanities not only helps us better understand our world but gives us new paths for creation and innovation. Anindita Banerjee says, on the topic of Science Fiction: “Far from being just the realm of fiction writers, filmmakers and lately game developers, science fiction has always been co-created and co-produced by an astonishingly large community that includes scientists and engineers, philosophers, social and political activists, journalists, artists, illustrators, politicians and policymakers.”4 Collaborating across desperate fields of study may be difficult to navigate at times, but it allows us to explore and expand our understanding of the world around us.