Friday , 5 June 2020
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We need to focus on the ‘why’ of technology in a ‘why not?’ world

Technology has become a part of every aspect of our lives, even in the places we least expect. The grocery store has a mobile app. The local bank has a chatbot. Strollers in the mall have touchscreens. The checkout counter is DIY. The parking lot has a security robot.

Are any of these things bad? No. But how many of them are necessary? In the process of making something more accessible, does the experience or usability suffer? And how many of these things improve the user experience of what they replaced? As society careens toward a fully automated future, we need to avoid embracing technology for technology’s sake.

The ultimate goal should be thoughtful technology — solutions geared toward helping human beings rather than being “just another app.” Any technological development must be worth the time, effort, and money put into it. It must also pay dividends in terms of how helpful it is.

This is especially crucial in the era of “disruption.” Quite a few modern technologies have not only simplified interactions and communication but also changed the way we do those things on a global scale. In order for any technology to be truly thoughtful, it must augment and ease human interaction rather than replace it altogether. The fact remains, people still want to interact and do business with living, breathing people they know, like, and trust.

Take the following three technologies. Researchers built each of these to help human beings collaborate, communicate, and interact. As they evolve, we need to ensure they stay on the thoughtful track.

New: Phone

The smartphone is now the epitome of the personal computer and the cornerstone of our connected lives.

The phone started as a simple way for people to speak to one another in real time. The landline harks back to a time when communication was slow, deliberate, and focused. Now, our phones are remote controls for many aspects of our lives, including summoning transportation, taking and sharing pictures, playing games, ordering food, and managing our online identities.

Of course, every phone now has an AI-powered voice assistant as well. We talk directly to our phones just as much as we do people on the other side of the call.

To be clear, the modern smartphone is a helpful tool. It’s arguably the most useful form of computing device the world has ever seen. It’s also the perfect example of a thoughtful technology that has had unintended negative effects. For example, recent studies have shown that smartphones have created feelings of depression and isolation in today’s youth. Perhaps this is because these devices often replace true interpersonal interaction.

Newer: Cobrowse

Cobrowsing technology is defined as providing the ability to share and interact with a web browser view. The technology has been available for decades, but tech developers have recently made advancements in security and accessibility that have pushed the solution forward. Those added benefits have allowed enterprises and government agencies to enhance customer experiences without adopting full automation or hurting end-user privacy.

Many fully automated experiences are frustrating and impersonal. We’ve all experienced “advancements” hampered by poor sensors, slow loading times, or confused AI responses. All of them can make you want to pull their hair out.

Cobrowsing is the perfect example of injecting humanity into technology. There’s a human on the other side of a connection, offering advice and assistance while collaborating with you and what you see on your display. That human connection is key, and cobrowsing offers the thoughtful tool that enables us to build that crucial bridge between people and tech.

Newest: Virtual and augmented reality

Imagine cobrowsing on a fully immersive, fully experiential level. Virtual and augmented reality applications have the potential to transform the way we interact with computers and other humans in the very near future.

Picture buying a couch via a headset. Imagine having the ability to see how it fits in your living room and being able to move your virtual sofa around the room without breaking a sweat. Maybe you can even connect with the salesperson in real time and chat with them as though they’re standing right in front of you.

The possibilities of VR and AR are endless, but it’s best to look to legacy technologies to help inform best practices. Will it become a technology as essential and world-changing as the smartphone, with all the positive and negative side effects to match? Or can we learn from technologies like cobrowsing that incorporate true human interaction to plot a truly thoughtful path forward?

The dangers of thoughtless technology

The idea of technology taking away jobs is a concern for many at the present moment. Some worry about technology taking over on a larger scale, like the fictional Terminators do. Even Tesla CEO Elon Musk has made headlines for warning that “AI is a fundamental existential risk for human civilization.” The mounting concerns are not falling on deaf ears, even in Silicon Valley.

Musk is right to think that technology without humanity isn’t going to work. A future of thoughtful technology will see people and machines working together to advance humanity. It should never be about replacing, replicating, or eliminating humans. If we avoid implementing technology for technology’s sake and start promoting thoughtful solutions, the future will remain human.

Tom Martin is the chief executive officer of Glance Networks, a company that helps enterprises create the ultimate customer experience with smart, omnichannel visual engagement solutions based on integrated cobrowse, screen share, and one-way agent video.