This blog also appears on Robohub.
It is a fantastic time for technology. We live in a more connected world, and compared to even a few decades ago, we have vastly improved access to information and content, and have dramatically expanded our ability to connect with one another in interesting new ways to socialize despite time and distance.
As much as I love what technology does for us, and it certainly does quite a bit, our relationship with technology can still be dramatically improved.
Technology can feel dehumanizing. Technology often demands that we think and act more like machines to use it. It treats us like technology, beeping, buzzing, and pushing data and information at us without concern for politeness. It interrupts our conversations, not caring if we understand the information, or determining if the information is wanted. I let my son play on my smartphone once, and now I’m rewarded with daily updates about zombie harvesting – enough! We need to do better.
We need to humanize technology so that it treats us the way we want to be treated.
But there is an even deeper reason to improve this interaction. My fundamental gripe with technology is that it fails to support a more holistic human experience. It falls short in giving people a personally meaningful, emotionally engaging experience.
This shortfall actually limits the ability of technology to support and empower us to succeed, thrive, and grow.
Yes. Here’s why.
People think, feel, and act not just because of information, but also because of personally meaningful experience. Things have to matter to us, not just inform us, to effect real change. There is a rich scientific literature on the role of emotion in intelligent decision-making and behavior change.
People who make careers of helping other people — educating others, helping to heal or care for others, or helping people to take better care of themselves –- all know the power of high touch on positive human outcomes. Learning new knowledge and skills opens opportunities for growth. Adopting behaviors that keep you healthier increases your chances of thriving as you age. Forging and maintaining stronger relationships with those you love promotes mental and emotional wellbeing. Your life is better when you can do these things.
We should care about these things at face value. And there is urgency to do so.
We are facing juggernaut societal challenges where we cannot rely solely on our institutions to take care of us, to educate us, to keep us healthy. It is too expensive and the growing demand continues to outpace available institution and human resources. We see the headlines: the education crisis, the healthcare crisis, the eldercare crisis, and more.
Millions of people are grappling with these issues every day, and we can help relieve the crushing burden on our institutions by empowering people in their homes.
My vision is that:
…. Even in the most time-crunched families, parents will have a reliable, high-quality partner in education for all children. Including our youngest learners who shall enter school ready to learn, or children with special needs, receptive to the quality education they need.
…Those people who struggle with health or chronic disease issues will have the right kind of tools to change behavior, and can independently manage their health and improve their treatment.
…Elders will be able to age independently in their homes with the help of a technology that feels much more like an attentive companion than yet another digital tool or a “Big Brother” monitoring system, relieving pressure on oversubscribed institutions, and remain emotionally connected to their families and loved ones despite distance.
And so much more.
To realize this vision, we all know that technology must be part of the solution. It’s affordable. It’s scalable. It’s accessible at home. This is a good start. But it needs to be more.
Personal technology needs to go beyond giving us access to information anywhere we are. It needs to go beyond opening a communication channel between people. It needs to go beyond being easy to use. It needs to go beyond being cool and desirable. All of these attributes are still critical pieces. But they do not yet form the full answer.
Technology needs to support what people need to be the most empowered to effect positive change in their life and for their loved ones. High tech must support high touch engagement for the best and most lasting results. Only then will technology maximally empower our human ability to fully engage with it — how we experience, think and behave at the intersection of our cognitive, social, emotional and physical capabilities — to succeed, thrive, and grow with technology like never before.
Technology needs to be humanized.
Computing has gone through several waves, each resulting in billion dollar industries and impacting millions if not billions of people’s lives on global scale. We’ve benefitted from the wave of information, the wave of mobility, the wave of social media. We’re seeing more and more wearable computing and the Internet of Things that combines these three.
Now, we are on the threshold of the next wave of computing: emotion. And social robotics is a particularly powerful expression of this next wave.
This is what social robotics is about. This is why it is so transformative. This is why it is revolutionary.
This is why it will change your life.
DR. CYNTHIA BREAZEAL is Founder and CEO of Jibo, Inc., and Associate Professor at the MIT Media Lab where she founded and directs the Personal Robots Group. Breazeal is acknowledged as the pioneer of Social Robotics, and is a globally recognized innovator and thought leader in cutting edge technology. Her book, Designing Sociable Robots, published by MIT Press, is considered a seminal work in the field.