Thrival Innovation and Music Festival is an annual event that brings entrepreneurs and business leaders together featuring multiple days of innovation-focused events followed by a two-day outdoor live music festival.
This was my first year attending Thrival, which is an initiative of Ascender – an independent Pittsburgh based nonprofit organization striving to help early-stage entrepreneurs.
A few weeks ago, I attended my first event hosted at Ascender covering the topic of social capital, which is where I first learned what Thrival was all about. After talking with the host and presenter for the event, Kenny Chen, he told me he was the program director for Thrival and mentioned that I should come to the innovation events he was helping organize. I took him up on the invite and attended the Wednesday night events following the theme “Human vs Tech”.
The panelists were tech and business leaders from all around the United States. One of the panelists, Amrit Dhir (Global Operations at Google for Entrepreneurs), shared a use of technology that his contact lenses allowed him to monitor his insulin levels in a constant & more efficient way than today’s standard of pricking your finger with a needle every few hours.
William Generett Jr. (Vice President for Community Engagement at Duquesne University) discussed policy issues that have arisen with the current state of artificial intelligence (AI) and where it may ultimately be heading in the future. This brought up discussions of universal basic income, cyber-security, securing the sharing of personal information, and what this means for the future of humanity in these infant stages of artificial intelligence.
Artificial Intelligence is already here and already affects each of us in our daily lives. Google tailors ads based on your personal online behavior, tracking your online activity to supply you with what its algorithm thinks are the most relevant products and services you will purchase in the future. Facebook monitors all of your social media behavior and feeds that data into an algorithm that learns and adapts when it decides what see in your daily feed.
But the element I found most interesting at Thrival was the question: what happens when artificial intelligence starts eliminating humanity from jobs and personal interactions?
We are already seeing a society where personal interaction is often being replaced by online social media. Instead of going to get coffee with a friend and bringing a notebook to jot down business strategies, we communicate via Facebook and share documents over Dropbox.
These technologies are very powerful tools that allow us to reach millions from the comfort of our own home, but they are also tools that often eliminate the need to connect on a personal level in the workplace.
Thrival was designed to explore, innovate, and discuss these new technologies. It was designed to address and create discussions on the benefits and dangers these technologies will create. How can we protect employees who may lose their jobs to artificial intelligence? How do we protect our humanity in an era where so many interactions are becoming digital? Most importantly, how can we create a better world that will bring us together rather than pulling us apart?
Erin Dertouzos (Chief People Officer at Quartet Health) shared her story during the panel titled “Headspace in the Workplace: Mental Health & Our Unsustainable Work Culture”. Erin shared that she had a difficult upbringing. She had the strength to tell an entire audience full of entrepreneurs, businessmen, and businesswomen the story of being raised by alcoholic parents, suffering from depression and growing up not feeling comfortable sharing her story.
She spoke of how she decided to make a difference in the tech world. She chose to embrace her experiences, appreciate the hardships that made her who she is and to make it a priority to focus on helping others in the tech workplace embrace their flaws and learn to use them to make the world a better place.
Erin makes it a point to share her own personal story with everyone she works with. Through her openness and honesty, she has found that employees follow her example. Instead of hiding their flaws and not being completely honest in the workplace in fear that they may be shunned or passed over for growth opportunities, they feel comfortable to share and pour everything they are into the work they do. They flourish in their position where they may have otherwise kept their head down and only offered a portion of what they had to offer the company.
Almost immediately after sharing her story, the Thrival program director came to close out the panel and had the courage to share his own personal story dealing with the stresses and hardships of working in the tech world. It was very clear that the words Erin had just spoken struck a chord with not only Kenny but also many of us in the audience. The mediator for the panel, Ilana Diamond (Managing Director at AlphaLab Gear), even mentioned she could see the audience’s eyes tearing up, a moment full of emotion. The tech world may feel like a fast-paced, do or die industry where you either perform or fall by the wayside, but Erin helped show that it doesn’t have to be.
This moment was incredibly impactful and my favorite experience from Thrival. These are the moments that no artificial intelligence can replace. These are the actions that lead to human thrival in a technology-driven era.