Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Martin Fiore of EY Is Helping To Change Our World

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We are our own toughest critic. Just as we need to understand and respect others, we also need to be a little kinder to ourselves. Humans aren’t born with much instinctive direction, so, considering the level of learning involved, I think most of us do fairly well most of the time.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Martin Fiore.

Martin Fiore is a leading business writer and speaker on the connection between people and technology, including author of the 2021 award-winning book, Humanity Reimagined. He is Regional Tax Leader at EY, where he served as sponsor of the technology committee that introduced intelligent automation at the firm.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us about your childhood backstory?

I was fortunate to have a supportive upbringing by parents who were a unified team and wanted the best for their sons. In turn, they also expected a lot from us — to help around the house, respect order, work summer jobs, and lend a helping hand to others. They taught us that a strong work ethic is energizing, not tiring, and that nothing is as fascinating as gaining a fresh perspective or as powerful as having the fortitude to solve a complex problem. My parents instilled in me a love of continuous learning and optimism. These are two running themes in my work and in my book.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

Several came to mind regarding general life lessons. These four — Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, and Tuesdays with Morrie — may not seem like they would fall into a common category, but they all inspired me in different ways about living life to its fullest. Even though they all deal with a sad or dark side of what it means to be human, each one affected my thinking around hope, dealing with challenges, and the importance of trying to better understand each other. Also, when I think back on Grapes of Wrath, I see it now in the new light of drought as a symbol of climate change. It brings home how we must respect that these types of dramatic changes disproportionally affect the most vulnerable among us — those most removed from having caused the problem. These books impacted my world view, and they contributed to themes in my book, such as in putting people first and joining together to preserve the best of human life and attributes.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

The plan was never to offer a road map or provide all the “answers.” I cannot imagine anyone today is capable of doing that, even if they wanted to. I am reminded of a quote from Carl Sagan, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” My goal was to help make known a little bit more about the change in our world…perhaps more than we have been thinking about with regard to what rapidly escalating innovation really means for the future of humanity. The book looks at where we are now, an era in which we will experience the greatest disruption ever in what it means to be human. It takes us through the evolution of major forces that have been driving change — globalization, generational shifts, technological development — and the trends coming out of that change that are pressing us forward today. I believe that exploring what is happening today can help us see around the next corner and try to pick up signals of where we will be in two, five, or 10 years. The goal is not to make predictions about specific changes, but rather to look at what we can do as individuals, organizations, a society, to bend the arc of history toward putting people first. That means raising questions to make sure today’s changes will enhance rather than damage or diminish our human gifts. I believe the best way to do that is by bringing together an ecosystem of likeminded stakeholders from business, government, academia, local communities, not-for-profits, NGOs, etc., who can raise awareness about how best to preserve and enhance humanity. Working together, we can facilitate debate and inspire wise, concerted action. The goal is not to stifle innovation; it is to enlighten it in a very humanistic way and provide the guardrails required to ensure compliance with the goal.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

The story that drives the most reactions from readers and audiences is the section on reimagining the human lifespan. One major difference between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom is that we understand we will die. As a result, a significant percentage of our time living is spent thinking about, avoiding, or preparing for death. This gives rise to the question: What happens if science and technology find ways to greatly extend human life, or even “cure” death? Will we behave differently if we no longer face the certainty of death? What will happen to the great religions, most of which teach that a desirable eternal life is the reward of an earthly life well lived. Our human “expiration date” already has been extended by at least 30 years — 46 to about 76 — in the past century. Our research shows that current developments in artificial intelligence, genetics, and pharmaceuticals have potential for ratcheting up those expectations significantly in just the next few years. It’s probable that the first person to live to 200 is alive on earth today. When I talk about this, the question becomes, “Is it exciting — or disturbing — to contemplate living twice or three times the ages of your parents?”

One of the most promising routes to a longer human lifespan is the evolving science of epigenetics. Working like “light switches,” epigenetic changes modify gene activity without changing the underlying sequence of DNA molecules. We see it in the natural course of life when we get a cut, for example. The genes for making new skin cells are “switched on.” Epigenetics also is involved in behavioral factors. When we gain a new skill, for example, the expression of genetic factors in our brain is modified. Diet and sleep patterns also cause chemical modifications that impact how our genetic inheritance is expressed. Scientists are looking for ways to manipulate these light switches as they relate to serious illnesses and other life-limiting conditions, including Alzheimer’s Disease and cancer. The most recent and well-known impact of epigenetics was its involvement in the tests and vaccinations developed to detect and fight COVID-19. So, clearly, there is a lot of promise there.

Taken a step further, proponents of the Singularity Movement, believe AI will make the human lifespan a moot point. As machines become increasingly capable of advancing beyond human intelligence to a point of self-sufficiency, it is possible they essentially will replace human life as we know it. In between where we are now and Singularity, there may be a time when we have fused with technology to a point of becoming part human and part synthetic, extending human life but not entirely replacing it. There is much to ponder in terms of how this will impact the most basic aspects of our lives — careers, relationships, social programs, and a different way of evaluating human contribution and value. If there’s ever a lull in dinner conversation, this is one topic that never fails to inspire opinions!

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

As I mention in the book, I had a revelation about halfway through the writing of it that my greatest challenge was trying to keep up with the constant evolution of new technology developments. Then I realized the irony of that challenge: The difficulty of staying on top of change only substantiated the importance of thinking and communicating clearly about where all this change is taking us. The revelation was that I didn’t have to keep up, I just needed to speak up, to keep writing; to encourage all of us to think more deeply and broadly about what all this change means for humanity. I am by nature a transformation optimist, so I want to view the world as it should be and not merely as it can be. This “purpose” was further strengthened when I became the father of two daughters. As parents naturally do, I want the world to be as perfect as possible for them — full of hope, the art and science of the possible. I want us all to be more empowered, more brilliant, more enlightened, and just better people.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Yes, I can narrow it to three key steps: 1) Recognize that we are at an inflection point in the arc of human history, and we need safe spaces in which to wrestle with the deep questions about where to go from here and we need guardrails to keep us on track 2) Acknowledge the reality that the ability to innovate is increasingly democratized and that millions of people worldwide are more empowered than ever to either help make a positive difference or to cause great harm; and we need to have leadership in all areas of our global society who can help ensure we respect the guardrails and achieve the former 3) The technology tools now available to us, the empowerment of large portions of the world population, and the energy and mindset of rising generations make this a perfect time to deal with key existential threats, perhaps most notably climate change; now would be the perfect time, for example, to reimagine and act on a future vision in which longer, healthier lives can be enjoyed in a world blessed with sustainable environmental quality.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership of any type today is more like a mission than a role or a title. I can’t imagine a successful leader today who doesn’t also have a strong inner value system and sense of purpose. Progressive leaders create trustworthy environments for work and learning. They “show, don’t tell,” leading by example, promoting agile thinking and encouraging transparency. An authentic leader creates a trustworthy environment that supports critical and creative thinking and makes everyone in that environment feel safer about bringing their true selves to work, expressing their values, building their own sense of purpose, and facing up to their mistakes.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

We are our own toughest critic. Just as we need to understand and respect others, we also need to be a little kinder to ourselves. Humans aren’t born with much instinctive direction, so, considering the level of learning involved, I think most of us do fairly well most of the time.

Having fun should be part of the job. If it’s all work and no fun, chances are you’re in the wrong place.

We each control far less of our lives, our jobs, our existence than we think we do. You can dream, be a great planner, and you can do just about everything right — and yet we have to realize how vulnerable we are in the larger world, in the bigger picture. I thought recent photos from the Webb telescope really brought that lesson home.

Even if what you do today seems unimportant now, it can be very important to your future. I recall many instances where a simple gesture, a kind word, a creative solution — or just plain showing up when somebody else didn’t — made a big difference in a later outcome.

Looking backwards can be a good thing. As Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward.” Sometimes you need to take a step back, re-examine your steps and adjust your trajectory according to past learning — whether from mistakes or successes.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Thinking back to the earlier question about influential books, I’m reminded of a quote that made a big impression on me from Tuesdays with Morrie: “Be compassionate and take responsibility for each other.” I would like to think I practice this to the best of my ability most days. We are all so imperfect, yet most are trying to do our best most of the time…for our families, colleagues, communities. Imagine how much better connected and understanding we could be with an extra dose of daily compassion — a sense of interconnectedness that made us want to do right by each other.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

It would be an exciting honor to meet with Warren Buffet or Michael Bloomberg. Over time, they have proven quite good at seeing around corners in a rapidly changing world.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Follow or connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter where I frequently post updates on my articles, blogs, speaking engagements, and podcasts.

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Martin Fiore of EY Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.