Niklas Wiedemann

Human ain’t a feature

When new technology emerges it is tempting to use it simply because it exists, it’s really cool and it’s possible – even if no one really needs it yet. If the technology is fancy enough people tend to create a need, which wasn’t there in the first place, and come up with a use for it. In some cases this technology push might just result in a product or service that comes across somewhat forced, as it’s created in isolation of a real need for it.

Due to the advances in technology, this tends to happen regularly and that’s fine. However, I recently came across a case where I feel there’s more to it than just flashy new technology. One of the innovations we have seen is the emergence of soft robots – robots made from silicone, gel, rubber and liquid, meaning they are naturally bendable and moveable. More human like.

One report about soft robots suggested they could be used to feed the elderly, to relieve the strain on care home staff. At a first glance this might seem like a great idea, considering the trends of making our lives smarter with technology – I almost thought it was. But then I thought – hold on! We need to be careful with this.

The suggestion to use robots to feed us as we get older gets the idea of elderly care entirely wrong.

Yes, soft robots might be capable of giving nutrition to people without hurting them or spilling the food. Soft robots might even be able to tell when someone needs food because their blood sugar has dropped below a threshold triggering the robot to provide a meal. But one thing that a robot can’t replace, is the human interaction, the presence of another person, seeing a familiar face, or exchanging a few words. If we reduce this to the mere injection of energy, we are missing crucial human needs. Human needs that are so profound that ignoring them will have us heading towards a self-inflicted dystopia, in spite of our good intentions.

At Fjord we are dedicated to human centric innovation through design. We strive to put humans at the heart of everything we do, which means embracing the fact that ‘human’ ain’t a feature. Humans sometimes simply cannot and should not be replaced by technology. If anything, we should focus on complementary services that augment what we as humans can do or enables us to focus on the areas where we are adding the most value.

One of Fjord’s 2015 Trends is called ‘Omni-Colleague’ and emphasizes the need to reintegrate people into the interface and providing them with digital services that support them in their job brilliantly. Let’s build services that make sure our parents & grandparents have the best and most human experience possible by supporting the staff working at care homes in being the superstars that they are, not by replacing them with robots.

Niklas Wiedemann

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