A HUB FOR HAPPINESS TECHNOLOGIES
Story by TONY WALTHAM
Bhutan’s Minister of Home Affairs Jigmi Y. Thinley
No other country is putting ethics at the top of its public policy agenda in the way that Thailand is, according to senior advisor to the University of Washington’s Human Interface Technology Lab Craig Smith who has been holding meetings here for the past three weeks, including co-hosting the colloquium he refers to above.
Last week a process was outlined in a meeting with the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec), Chulalongkorn University and the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) whereby internal teams will hold a series of meetings.
Later, three recommendations outlined by Deputy Prime Minister Paiboon Wattanasiritham would be operationalised – and before the next colloquium, he said.
These ideas are around identifying what makes people happy, mapping who knows what in communities and in applying technology to teaching meditation or mindfulness. A design prototype will be prepared at AIT on November 29, the eve of the next colloquium here, he said.
This should be followed by the signing of a Memoandum of Understanding the following day.
“We have to develop some sophisticated instruments that could measure the ethical impact of technologies and look at the way applications shape behaviour; do they have an ethical impact or an addictative impact?” he said. With such tools, government policy-makers could make informed decisions about technology and whether it is good for its people, he explained.
Thailand would definitely set the agenda for the world, Smith said, adding that he had been invited to Geneva to discuss the latest developments with the secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Next week, he is also meeting with Google to brief its top executives about the concepts.
The term Gross National Happiness (GNH), which aims to define the quality of life in holistic terms – in contrast to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is merely an economic indicator – was conceived by Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck back in 1972.
But it wasn’t until 1998 that Bhutan decided to share this idea with the rest of the world. Before that, the Himalayan kingdom and been “too shy” to talk publicly about the concept, according to Bhutan’s Minister of Home Affairs, Jigmi Y. Thinley.
Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) last month, he explained how the concept of GNH promoted a sustainable, simple way of life and a peaceful society, and how it was now gaining currency and interest in the world at large.
Thinley had been in Bangkok to participate in a two-day International Conference on Happiness and Public Policy, staged July 18-19 by the Public Policy Development Office of the Prime Minister’s Office.
At the FCCT, Thinley also announced that the 3rd International Conference on Gross National Happiness would take place in Nong Khai, followed by a session in Bangkok, from November 22-28 this year.
Some of those who had made presentations at the two-day conference on Happiness and Public Policy at the UN later joined the 20 or so academics, representatives from NGOs, the Government and companies such as IBM and Intel at a colloquium – referred to in the story above – that explored how Thailand might become a centre that could “operationalise” GNH.
This was a brainstorming session that, in particular, looked at health care – the first of several planned for the coming year by its organisers.
This series of seminars, conferences and colloquia mark a new phenomenon that recognises the need to apply morality and ethics to societies.
And Thailand is now at the epicentre of activity – presenting an opportunity for the country to position itself as a global leader for innovation in this field.
This comes as His Majesty the King’s sufficiency economy concept is providing both the setting and is serving as a moral guiding principle for national development.
During the colloquium, which I attended, Deputy Prime Minister Paiboon Wattanasiritham pointed out that a few years ago most businessmen here would have said that the sufficiency economy concept did not apply to business but related only to farmers and rural areas.
But this had all changed, he noted. Many inroads had been made and business leaders at chambers of commerce and the Federation of Thai Industries now seriously discussed sufficiency economy principles, he said.
Paiboon also reminded those present how Thailand’s 10th national economic and social development plan, which was based on the sufficiency economy concept, stated clearly that the final stage of its development goal was to have a society where people lived together in peace, happiness and togetherness, including being in good health.
In discussions about happiness, ethics and morality another fundamental element is spirituality.
In articles on the web at spiritualcomputing.com, Craig Smith details aspects of the convergence of ancient wisdom and modern tools and says that a framework and a research agenda is now emerging through informal meetings.
In applying technology to the concepts of GNH or the sufficiency economy as well as to spiritual computing, the Web 2.0 concept of interactive computing would appear to be the foundation on which solutions or applications might be built, he notes.