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Reality Check: coHired's Rachel Kelly

As part of Idealog's Technology Month, we've picked the brains of some of the movers and shakers in the industry to find out their favourite tech-related things, their biggest fears for the future and what other companies and individuals inspire their work. Here's coHired's head of brand and value Rachel Kelly. 

What’s your favourite…

Technology you can’t live without?

Online, shared calendar. It helps to keep a sense of balance between work, my family, and personal life. I say the words ‘sense of balance’ very intentionally here. It doesn’t stop the chaos or give balance.

Underrated or old technology?

The pen. There is nothing quite like putting ink to paper – digital inking isn’t quite there yet. I find the tactile sensation between paper and ink ball helps my ideas flow and brings a deeper sense of connection to my thoughts.

New Zealand tech company or individual in that space that’s doing seriously cool things?

The early-stage tech start-up, coHired. They’re harnessing organisational science and machine learning to match people to jobs they love while keeping the recruitment journey about ‘humans’ not just CVs. The average person spends 90,000 hours at work. If we can’t inject smarts and integrity into helping people to find great work (that they love) we’re missing the point of technology. Take that, and their social purpose of providing clean water to communities in need, and they’re doing some seriously cool things. So much so, I’ll be joining the company full-time next month.

Global tech company or individual in that space that’s doing seriously cool things?

The tech organisation PartnershipAI is on my radar for addressing core issues around raising a kind, thoughtful, and self-regulating Artificial Intelligence. Anyone working to address these ethical issues directly, or being a proactive voice in this space is a superstar in my mind.

Tech project or product you’ve had a hand in?

During my masters thesis, I developed a way to test drugs in hair. Now victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault can find evidence to prove they were drugged, and can help prosecutors put perpetrators away. I have been involved with many tech commercialization projects. Confidentiality agreements prevent me from saying which ones!

Tech projects or products that isn’t yours, but you’re envious of?

Xero. They are a great example of a company addressing a big business problem (accounting/finance) through zealous attention to user experience and simplifying an otherwise complex and confusing process. Banqer is an incredible way to increase financial knowledge in youth, for long-term impact to our economic health (both NZ and globally).

What first drew you to this industry?

I was born with an insatiable curiosity about how things worked. I was naturally drawn to science because I wanted to deeply understand highly complex things. I wanted to understand ‘why’ and ‘how’. I was also born with a keen sense of justice, fairness, and morality. Wanting to understand how things worked, and to create a world that was fair and just meant I had a natural inclination to fix things that were broken. Technology has become my tool to do that.

What do you enjoy the most about working in tech?

The curiosity and ingenuity that is fostered in tech is my favourite part. Technology is simply a tool. I love that I can join other change-makers for positive global impact, by crafting new ways of tackling problems…or ultimately solving them. It is the expansive, futuristic, growth mindset I love.

How would you describe New Zealand’s tech culture?

I’ve spoken at-length about NZ’s tech culture. I think innovation and creativity is important when solving problems through technology and I believe New Zealanders have those key attributes running through our veins.

However, our culture is very risk averse and we don’t tend to like hard work or authority. So, while we have this unique opportunity to harness our inherent strengths to take huge leaps in education, welfare, business, or social applications, our resistance to change and apathy really hurts us.

Where does inspiration come from for you?

I have an insatiable drive to understand complex problems and fix things. Through accepting and harnessing this perpetual curiosity and dissatisfaction, I believe I can make a difference in this world – that I can make it better because I existed. I hope to instil the same believe in my children and the young leaders I mentor.

Reality check

How has tech impacted on your work? How will it impact on it in the future?

Technology is simply a tool we use. Like a knife, or a gun, tools can be used for good and bad. I think it comes down to intention. There are more technology-based tools in this world than ever before. So, the future impact of technology will ultimately depend on how it is being used – whether for good or bad. Millions of hammers are used to build homes for people who need shelter or craft furniture etc. Thousands of hammers are also used to break into windows, hurt and even kill people. It doesn’t mean the hammer is bad. It is a tool. It is how you use it. Technology, as we know it today, simply has more reach, with a degree of autonomy and the rate of change that outstrips other tools. In a million ways, technology will go very wrong, but it will also go very right. I only hope there are always enough people with good intentions to help offset those people with bad intentions.

What’s been the most concerning change that technology has made to human behaviour, in your experience?

One quote from philosopher Leon Kass summarizes my concerns here. "Technology often erases moral boundaries and brings people even closer to the dangerous belief that they can do anything they want to do.”

How would you describe your relationship with technology? Do you think you’re addicted to any form of it?

Technology is my tool to create – not only create amazing solutions but also to create distraction and escapism. It is easier to get swept up in other people’s lives than your own sometimes. In that way, it becomes a dangerous addiction. Facebook, Hulu, and YouTube are my biggest trigger to addiction. I believe it is all in moderation – it is about being mindful.

Do you think social media is a blessing or a curse?

It is both. Humans are naturally curious about how others live their lives. It is a wonderful curiosity, but it is dangerous. The illusion created by social media is that the ‘grass is greener’ and more beautiful. In mainstream media, the illusion is that the ‘grass is dead’ and everything is horrible. This establishes a dangerous psychological cycle and addiction. Case and point – a car accident. We are conflicted between looking at the tragedy and looking away. It is so horrible, but we can’t help ourselves. Both social and mainstream media blurs the lines between fact/fiction and ethics/accountability.

The blessing here is that technology can be a great teacher. We can choose to be more open to opinions, to consider all the facts, to be more constructive with our actions (rather than be destructive), and look very squarely in the face of our nature’s ‘dark side’. To think before we act – or in technology’s case, click. It is here to teach us that morality is subjective, that people can (and deserve to) be different, and that we can disagree, but still be cordial and respectful.

Do you think technology needs more laws surrounding it, or a form of resource consent regulation?

Yes and no. Technology moves so fast and laws often don’t keep up. I think instituting values or ethics around what is right and ‘wrong’ is important. Accountability and repercussion will be crucial. Perhaps more importantly, finding the balance to regulate just enough to keep the large majority safe, but not so much as to stifle innovation. There will always be those who make mistakes or don’t care about rules at all. We will never eliminate those types of events or people in the real world, nor will we in the digital world. We just need a means to keep people accountable and have fair repercussion if they don’t.

What needs to be done to tackle the diversity issue in tech?

It comes down to equal opportunity. This is far bigger than any race or gender discussion. For as long as we have socio-economic divide, capitalism, and human bias, we will never have equal opportunity. BUT we can do our best to ensure those who wouldn’t normally have access to opportunity, do so. I think building innovation into our education system through a open-source/crowd-source model will help. I talk more about that here.

What worries you the most about technology? What’s your scariest prediction for the future? Will the robots kill us all?

We will drive this future: good or bad. The decisions we make today and the near future will possibly be the most interesting anthropological study of all time because we are at cross-roads. I need more time and space to share my thoughts on this topic.

What will New Zealand look like as a country in 2037?                                                                                       

Again, this is a big topic. I’ve had some thoughts around this. You can read some of them here and here.