Digital technologies and human transformations

20 January 2020

What are the implications of advances in digital technologies such as AI on human abilities? How might they shape how people interact, or economies and the future of work? Explore the results of the Royal Society’s workshops on digital technologies and human transformations.

How are digital technologies affecting society?

Data-enabled technologies are creating new opportunities to expand and shape human experience: digital platforms enable new forms of interaction: artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are automating tasks, with implications for the nature of work; education technologies are supporting new approaches to learning; and augmented reality and prosthetic technologies are shaping how their users interact with the world.

From writing and printing to the mechanisation of manufacturing, technology design and use has long been entwined with the evolution of human capabilities, with implications for individuals and society. What does this wave of technology change mean for human lives and experiences?

Workshop discussion summary

In 2010, a joint project between the Royal Society, Academy of Medical Sciences, British Academy, and Royal Academy of Engineering explored how advances in science and engineering could enhance human abilities, and the implications of these enhancements for the future of work. Since this study, advances in digital technologies have progressed at pace: AI technologies are achieving human-level performance at some tasks; platform-based services are fuelling the digital economy; and a range of new device or robotics-based tools have entered the home and workplace. 

To explore the implications of this wave of technological progress, the Royal Society convened a series of workshops in 2019, asking:

  • In what ways are technologies influencing how individuals move through and sense the world around them?
  • How can digital technology support learning, and human cognitive functions?
  • What are the implications of digital technologies for patterns of working and earning?
  • What forms of connection and interaction are digital technologies enabling, and what dependencies potentially follow?

A summary of discussions (PDF) at these workshops considers how individuals interact with digital technologies and how these technologies mediate interactions between people. You can also watch interviews with some workshop participants.