Faculty Speak

Technology isn’t just changing society — it’s changing what it means to be human

Professor Vasanthi Srinivasan specialises in organisational behaviour and human resource management. She has been extensively involved in designing and delivering leadership development programs for Indian and international companies. With four successful MOOCs under her belt, Professor Srinivasan smoothly facilitates online learning for students and professionals all over the world. In this blog post, she discusses how technology has changed the playing field and reshaped what is ‘human’. 

Over the last two years, most of my reading beyond work, has been focused on the role of technology and how it can shape the future of individuals, corporations and society, in ways that we can conceive and mostly in ways that we cannot even imagine!

As a student of human behaviour, technology has always fascinated me. I am technologically challenged – which means that I adopt technology only when I am forced to. But I find myself spending time in museums that house new technologies, in reading about the new age drones that will allow me to fly without boarding an airplane, the electric and driver less cars, artificial intelligence and cognitive computing, human machine protocols and natural language programming.

I don’t understand the science of these digital technologies much, but what stands out for me is the human aspect in terms of attitudes and behaviours, values and beliefs and above all the emotional and identity related aspects of the technology human interface.

I am neither a technology optimist nor a pessimist; neither a technophobe nor a technophile, just a scholar of human behaviour trying to understand technology and change.

The blogposts are neither about providing solutions, tips or do’s and don’ts nor are they a scholarly analysis of the how and why of the digital revolution under way, but they are about questions that loom in my mind. Some answers that may not be coherent to me at this point in time, but really about phenomena that I try to observe, understand and make sense of.

Music maestro meets metal

I am going to begin with my favourite Indian composer, music director, and singer A R Rahman. His performance at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2016- an event that showcases new products and technologies in the electronics industry. A R Rahman and his band used Intel’s Curie smart wristbands that convert hand movements into mini data decoded by software to create music. All the band members had wearable devices on their hands and feet. The stage was mapped to receive signals from the devices that the artists wore, and movements of the hand would play the pre assigned notes. Such a magical performance with no instruments on stage can very easily be explained through a scientific explanation provided by Narayan Sundararajan, director, Wearable Components Research at Intel, who says, each musician’s setup was personalised. “Every band member had a set of algorithms. For example, Siva wanted a harder threshold for stomp than the other drummers.”

Screen Shot 2018-07-20 at 12.10.42 AM
A.R. Rahman and his band use Intel’s Curie smart wristbands that convert hand movements into mini data decoded by software to create music (Picture Courtesy: Gadgetsnow.com)

The question that I am interested in is what is the nature of capabilities that will be needed of a musician to be able to engage with such technologies? What are the limits on how the music and technology combine in different ways to create harmony? Where do they merge and blend? Where do they remain distinct? Where does the technology overshadow the musician and where does the musician bring in the ‘soul’ of the music?

Research on expert music performers show that they are able to reproduce reliable timing and force variations on repeated renditions of the same piece of music. They are also known to possess superior memory for melodies and music notation. Experts also seem to be able to encode larger chunks of material when sight-reading the notations, taking advantage of meaningful musical structure and use their knowledge base to make inferences (Sloboda, 2012). Musicians often refer to a “structure emotion” link which is central to musical expertise. Since emotions are fundamental to human beings, what is required is the capacity to apprehend the musical structures on to the emotions (Sloboda, 2012).

When approached from this point of view, the exercise of using technology for music ceases to be a scientific endeavour, and becomes an aesthetic one. Herein lies my interest – that it is insufficient to say that we must challenge the limits of what science can do, but rather to challenge the ways aesthetics interacts with technology. Do we feel that as humans we will find ways to communicate our aesthetic sensibilities through a form that was previously unexplored?

  • Sources: Sloboda, J A (2012) Musical expertise in Foundations of Cognitive Psychology: Core readings (Ed) by Levitin, D J. MIT Press. England

[This blog post was written by Professor Vasanthi Srinivasan, Professor, IIM Bangalore. Originally published on the IIM Bangalore blog]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s