Global Theme

Our 2016 global theme, "The Invisible Hand: Hidden Forces of Technology (and How We Can Harness it for Good)," will explore how a new framework consisting of mobile technology, networked connectivity, data and machine learning are changing how we connect, consume and communicate.

Toby Daniels
"The Invisible Hand represents the intangible, under-valued processes driving our technology, and ultimately, our decisions, forward. As we become more efficient, dynamic, and diverse human-beings, we have the responsibility to understand the present and future potential of these hidden forces all around us."
Toby Daniels, Founder and Executive Director, Social Media Week

The Invisible Hand: Hidden Forces of Technology (and How We Can Harness it for Good) will serve as our unifying theme throughout 2016. We unpack, explore and address a number of fundamental questions at each of our 18 SMW cities.

Our examination will look at four attributes of "The Invisible Hand":

  • Smart devices: Including mobile phones, connected devices and networks including Bluetooth, NFC, WiFi, 4G, etc., that can operate to some extent interactively and autonomously
  • Networked connectivity: The means by which these devices and networks are able to connect to each other through routers, switches and gateways
  • Data: Including the capture, analysis, curation, search, sharing, storage, transfer, and visualization of information
  • Machine learning: The study and the construction of algorithms that can learn from and make predictions on data

When combined these attributes change everything. Whether it’s the way we consume media, engage with brands, access health-care, vote, travel, choose restaurants, commute to work, collaborate on projects, or how we go about choosing a date, technology’s invisible hand plays a crucial role in decision-making and the way in which we experience the world around us.

“The Invisible Hand” represents the intangible, under-valued processes driving our technology, and ultimately, our decisions, forward. As we become more efficient, dynamic, and diverse human-beings, we have the responsibility to understand the present and future potential of these hidden forces all around us.” Toby Daniels, founder, Social Media Week



The Origins of "The Invisible Hand"

In the 18th century, Adam Smith came up with “The Invisible Hand,” a metaphor that describes “unintended social benefits resulting from individual actions.”

This phrase relates to the idea that society may benefit more from one individual’s pursuit of passion or interest than if that individual set out to impact his or her entire community or culture from the start. In a networked society we can look at “The Invisible Hand” metaphor in a slightly different way. Today, our individual actions cannot be isolated in regards to how we use technology.

When you request an Uber ride, recommend a book on Amazon, share a BuzzFeed article, watch a movie on Netflix, or ask Siri for directions, your actions are part of a collective set of actions that contribute to new outcomes. These new outcomes do not just impact you. They also help improve the products, services, and technologies around us, as well as overall life of everyone connected online to each other.

Two Sides of "The Invisible Hand" Conversation

However these outcomes are not always positive, and so if we are to remain vigilant as technology progresses, then we need to facilitate a dialogue that explores the various sides and perspectives of this ever-changing movement.

There are two sides to the Invisible Hand however, positive outcomes and negative drawbacks, both of which must be explored. As technology takes over more of our decision making there are moral and ethical implications to consider and we feel strongly that as a global community we are well positioned to host an open and constructive dialogue that looks at both sides.

Some real-life examples you might know, include:

Individual Action Collective Benefit Collective Drawbacks
Ordering an Uber Faster response times Lack of job stability when everyone’s a contractor
Rating a restaurant on Yelp Better recommendations Easily manipulated reviews
Pinning a picture on Pinterest Better product recommendations Working for free for retailers that get all the benefit
Watching a film on Netflix Better discovery of new things to watch based on popularity Fewer people have these shared experiences talking around the water-cooler
Endorsing a skill on LinkedIn Adding more objectivity and context to professionals resumes everywhere Gaming experience to get ahead
Sharing a Buzzfeed article on Facebook Allows for surfacing of more relevant and timely content Publishers seeking lowest common denominator of shareability rather than great reporting
Swiping left on Tinder Narrows the number of potential dates you’re presented with. Swiping right leads to greater casual sex, unwanted pregnancies, objectification of women, and more
Sharing location of traffic police on Waze Prevents others from being caught for speeding and other traffic offenses. Encourages speeding and other forms of dangerous driving.

How Can You Contribute to the Conversation?