Albert Einstein once wrote: “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity […] Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.”
More than 80 years later, it seems Einstein was as right as he could be. Technological solutions keep on developing straight to our everyday life which makes providers wonder: how can we humanize technology?
Humanizing technology: to what end?
These past years are characterized by the birth of amazing technological innovations in various areas: 3D printing, medecine, home automation, robotics, communication…
We often can’t quite grasp the impact of technology or even fear it. Einstein himself wondered if including too much technology in our lives was harmful. Innovations quickly grow thus provoking a fear of letting technology take over our lives. What if technology was more dehumanizing than helpful?
According to Pol Pla I Conesa, PhD at MIT, technology improves our lives without a doubt but people developing technology often forget the users for they are blinded by the incredible technical possibilities.
If a technological product must be powerful, it mostly needs to be useful to the users.
Today, the primary purpose of developers and providers is to integrate a human point of view to the innovation. Progress is not going to stop; it is crucial that users understand technologies in order to distinguish the useful from the worthless.
Humanizing technology or creating love ?
Steve Jobs said: “One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. […]As we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision for Apple, it started with ‘What incredible benefits can we give to the customer? Where can we take the customer?’ ”
Following the ergonomics principles, the user experience (UX) should come first in the development process of a new product. Will my product be useful to the user? Is it credible, desirable, findable, and accessible? The product is adapted to the user and not the other way around!
Such a philosophy led Steve Jobs and Apple to a great success. In 2011, Martin Lindstrom lead a series of fMRI on Apple fans in order to study their brain activity while using an Apple product. Contrary to the original assumption, the active areas of the brain are not the ones related to addiction. When the subject slide or tap the screen of an iPhone, the insula is activated. The insula, or insular cortex, is the brain area associated with feelings of compassion, love and pleasure.
Technology takes such an important part of some people lives that a love relationship is born. In some cases, technology can even provoke the same emotional reaction than a relative, a boyfriend or a girlfriend.
Following Jobs’ footstep, professionals wonder: how is it possible to create desire and pleasure in the use of technology?
Demystification is needed to humanize technologies
Denis Bertrand, a French semiologist, believes that our minds build a myth around technology in 3 steps:
- The “wow effect”: the surprise, the magical effect induced by the product
- The vivacity of the product: we give an intention to the product which brings it to life
- The charm, desire and pleasure caused by the aesthetic aspect of the product
This whole process prevents the user from understanding the product and thus from experiencing it properly. A wrong experimentation of the product can lead to 2 behaviors:
- A complete rejection of the technology and an opposition to its use (mostly seen with the elderly)
- An irrational behavior recognized as “addictive” from the product’ fans (mostly seen with the youngsters)
In both cases, it is crucial to demystify the technology. Users need to see that there is a real interest in using technology as well as learn how to integrate technology in their everyday lives. However, the technology must remain non-intrusive.
Todd Carlisle, in charge of HR at Google, believes that humanizing technology means adapting it to the users’ everyday lives, particularly in the work environment.
According to Carlisle, we need to:
- Use flexible technologies
- Identify and use the most relevant technology for a given situation
- Do not substitute technology to reality
- Encourage users to disconnect when the technology is not necessary
Humanizing technology: our major challenge in the future
In a nutshell: humanizing technology is crucial especially in a context of constant innovation.
Humanizing a technology means presenting and explaining the technology and its usefulness to the users. It also means helping the users embracing the technology in their daily routine.
Innovations must be accessible, simple, reassuring, useful and non-invasive. A revolutionary innovation may never find its users if they can not understand it. A user who does not get the point of an innovation will not use it.
Like Einstein said: technologies must focus on humans, not the other way around.
At Hakisa, we believe that the future of technology is a more humane one. We offer our a social hub that integrates new technologies into the users communities. This way, we guarantee a technology focused on the human.
2 thoughts on “Humanizing technology: a challenge for innovation”
Great post and great information.. I guess I should start taking advantage. With your great tips I will have a great idea of how to use it. Thanks.