BoF VOICES 2023: Humanity and the Human Touch


The rapid advance of artificial intelligence is raising concerns about its potential threats to everything from creativity and craftsmanship to the stability of the world’s democracies. Disruption and violence are roiling the globe in other ways as well. Marginalised groups from refugees to the LGBTQ community carry on their fight for safety and security. At the opening session of BoF VOICES 2023, speakers shared their views on navigating these crises and why compassion, kindness and humanity are needed now more than ever.

Humanity’s New Frontiers

Aza Raskin, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, issued a warning about AI, saying it was about to “force a rite of passage for humanity.” For many people, their first contact with the technology began with social media’s recommendation algorithms, which incentivise users to create content that will earn the most engagement, for better or worse. If we don’t consider the incentives AI creates for companies to race to market dominance, the ramifications could be dire, including an exponential spread of misinformation.

“If we want to do something about AI before an incentive gets embedded in our system, we have to operate now,” Raskin said.

But AI isn’t the only new frontier. Though humans began to explore space decades ago, it has remained accessible only to a handful of countries. That has begun to change as private companies have begun reaching beyond Earth’s borders, said Dana Baki and Hélène Huby, chief commercial officer and co-founder and chief executive of The Exploration Company, respectively. This will be beneficial to industries and people, they argued, as it will allow for development of new technologies, much like the challenges of going to space have previously led to innovations in solar panels and water-filtration systems.

“We are at a cusp where technology is speeding up, where space is not just for rocket scientists and astronauts anymore,” Baki said. “It’s for all of us.”

The Power of Representation

In her talk with Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, filmmaker Waad Al-Kateab discussed her own battle against misinformation. It was part of the reason she made “For Sama,” the 2019 documentary about her life and the birth of her daughter during the violence of the Syrian civil war. Those who supported the uprising against the ruling regime were labelled “terrorists,” she said. Filming her life allowed her to show her daughters and the world what really happened. Her new film, “We Dare to Dream,” followed refugee athletes as they competed to make it to the 2020 Olympics.

“I want them to look at this and say, ‘We’ve been seen. We’ve been heard,’” Al-Kateab said.

Schuyler Bailar, an author and swimmer who was the first openly trans NCAA Division I men’s athlete in the US, talked about his own struggles to be seen and to belong. He recounted the experience of entering the men’s locker room, where guys spoke explicitly about women’s bodies. What he realised was that toxic masculinity was performed by men for other men as a way to feel included.

As he worked through his own ideas of gender, he realised that everyone, regardless of who they are and how they identify, is in some way constrained by widely held ideas about gender.

“Every single industry, every single person has something to gain from gender liberation,” he said.

Putting People First

Leena Nair knows something about the limits people can put on you because of your identity. The CEO of Chanel is the first woman in the role. Growing up in India, she said, she often heard jibes about how she was so talented she should have been a boy. Later, as she joined Unilever, where she spent decades as she worked her way to head of human resources, she frequently found herself in situations where she was the only woman, whether on a factory floor or in a boardroom.

“Be unafraid,” she advised any young girls encountering a similar situation. “State your kickass ambition. Have no fear.”

Nair showed no fear when discussing AI. It’s vital that human creation, creators and relationships be preserved, she said. These are qualities that most impressed her when she arrived at Chanel in 2021 and continue to represent what makes the brand and its industry so emotionally powerful.

Central to how she leads today is remaining open, curious and humble, she said, and retaining a sense of humanity.

BoF VOICES 2023 is made possible in part by our partners Snapchat, McKinsey & Company, Porsche, Getty Images, Invisible Collection and Soho House.

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