Last year I wrote and published a short eBook titled, The Ultimate Killer App: How Technology Succeeds. The point of the book was to link technology to human behavior and various measures of emotional health. Naturally, there’s a lot of research out there based on innumerable medical and psychological studies. My intent was to distill it all down to the essentials to evaluate how technology affects our humanity and vice-versa.
I found a useful way to graphically represent how we express and progress our humanness through Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, developed in a paper in 1943 and displayed above. What we see here is a pyramid of ascending needs, from the most base physiological needs such as food, air, and water to the more abstract needs of self-actualization at the summit. We can view the stepwise progression as each step builds on the previous.
My purpose was to relate this hierarchy of needs to technology, and not just microchip technology.
In this more detailed graphic, the various stages are explained. After our bodily needs and health are satisfied we move up to more emotional and psychological needs such as love and friendship. Then we seek affirmation of our self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-respect. Finally we reach the stage of self-actualization, where we find the ultimate personal meaning of our lives as moral, creative, empathetic, and altruistic human beings.
This starts to get more interesting as we consider the progression of Maslow’s hierarchy in a dynamic model.
As we ascend the hierarchy, we find that higher level achievements feedback to enhance our psychological and emotional health. The journey to explore meaning to our lives becomes a virtuous feedback cycle that makes us happier, healthier, and more fulfilled. This is what numerous scientific medical studies have shown. In particular, these studies focus on social connections, creativity, self-esteem and the effects of loneliness.
So how does technology enter into this story?
We can see some of our needs are ends or values, and some are actions or means to those ends. Successful technology helps provides a means to an end.
Meeting physiological needs requires actions: to gather, grow, or hunt food and to husband potable water; to build shelters and secure safe communities. Sex is also an action (an important one to contemplate in this schema), as is work and play. On the other hand, self-esteem, confidence, respect, tolerance, and morality are values or end goals. We acquire these goals as a result of our actions — we can’t be granted them outright.
There are two actions I’ve highlighted in yellow that I will argue promote the core of human needs and motivations. The first is captured by the entire middle level of seeking love and belonging, which we can characterize in the most general terms as the social needs met by sharing and connecting with our fellow human beings. This encompasses love, sexual union, friendship, and camaraderie. (Think Facebook.)
The second action resides at the summit of our search for meaning, which is creativity. Creativity (which certainly includes problem-solving) embodies activities by which we gain a sense of achievement, self-esteem, confidence, and respect by others. Creativity is also an end in itself.
Creativity and social sharing enhance our ability to survive and thrive biologically and emotionally. As measured in human subjects, both creativity and sharing lead to greater happiness, satisfaction, meaning, and healthy well-being. Together, the synergy and positive feedback they create forms the basis of technology’s Ultimate Killer Apps.
All technology, from the discovery of fire to the wheel to the smartphone, are successful efforts to enable us to create and connect. Those are the inputs. The outputs are the perpetuation of the human race and its civilizations.
I think our greatest opportunities to be creative, to communicate with others, and to have relationships are fostered by technology.
Ray Kurzweil, author, inventor, and futurist.