How we can help technology to be good | David Webster | TEDxGlasgow



I'm gonna let you in on a secret from Silicon Valley unicorns live in trees I learned this from my daughter about six months ago it's a beautiful sunny afternoon we were playing in the park in Palo Alto we're building nests for unicorns I have twigs and as my daughter regaled me with stories of the complexities and intricacies of unicorn society I did that thing did that sneaky thing you know where you get your phone out you you hold it down next year sigh and you subtly check it just to see if there's anything important happening in the world like Dwayne the rock Johnson has updated his Instagram which he had I got somewhat absorbed in that and then I noticed something silence I looked up and there she was silently patiently watching me judging me I was busted and then she slowly carefully twisted the knife by saying daddy when is it my turn for you to look at me once I pull myself by together I reflected in that moment and the fact that this amazing device that most of us have on us most of the time this thing that connects us to the important people in our lives to all the muses is happening in the world and to most of the world's in all age this incredible like piece of technological advancement it forced me to look at it and insinuated itself between me and my child and it made me a worse person but I knew it was gonna do it again now someone whose profession is to design new experiences using new technology just give me some pause like how did it come to this if you look at the newspapers you can see there's abundant reasons for us to start to get pessimistic about technology in our relationship with it and the stakes are only getting higher there are more new technologies coming out as faster with higher consequence than ever before genome science AI nanotechnology the list goes on they're happening a speed and a scale that it's going to make what happened was the internet look trivial it's not gonna stop it's gonna profoundly affect every single one of our lifes whether we like it or not and we're feeling this lack of control we're feeling this manipulation refueling somehow diminished by it it's only natural that we want to apportion some blame so what's the blame is it technology itself I don't think so in fact every new technology that humans have ever engaged with has always been a double-edged sword ever since the first caveman picked up the first rock and to say they've weathered the crack open the coconut for dinner or crack open his next-door neighbor's skull and eat their dinner technology could go either way it's more a function of the path that we put it on than it is the technology itself okay so does that mean at the moment that we are in is caused by bad people with bad intentions I don't think that's the case either I live and work in Silicon Valley amongst the people that populate the companies that are giving us these experiences and in general they're really good people they're smart and they're creative they're idealistic they want to invent new things that make people's lives better this this is not what they had in mind either you've gotta look at some of the mission statements or some of the big tech companies in Silicon Valley to see audaciously stated good intentions and honestly I think that's part of the problem here is eagerness to scale is that is that audacity of intention means that people want to have as much impact as possible as fast as they can and the tendency is to just put their heads down and start sprinting but it can be sprinting slightly the wrong direction and then all of the thousands of micro decisions is the accumulate between intention and reality can cause it to veer off further but the good news is that something can be done and it's not that hard I know from my own experience working in design with new technology but there are basic things that we can do to help technologies to be good I'm going to share the three most important ones with you I with some real-life examples first thing that we can do to help technology to be good is to start with people entrepreneurs often have an idea and then are on a mission to make it happen as expeditiously as possible seems reasonable but I've learned that is always worthwhile to take a moment and find out what matters to people the people that you're innovating for what's important to them what's meaningful to them what's going on in their lives now this sounds really obvious but you'd be surprised at how infrequently it happens what you see here might be familiar to some of you it's a breast pump it's a device that allows mothers to maintain a supply of their milk when they're not directly breastfeeding it's a great idea but as you can see from the image it's pretty complicated contraption one of our teams recently worked with a company called willow to invent a new breast pump now you might think I when invented one of these things the an important thing would be how fast it works if you make a powerful pump you're able to draw the milk out faster and you're therefore able to afford the mother more time to get on with all the other important things that she has to do but when we spend some time getting interested in what was actually going on with mothers we realized that the important thing was not speed but shame shame czar powerful emotion when it comes to breastfeeding mothers feel ashamed if they don't breastfeed and then they can be made to feel ashamed as they do in public and that turned into a design principle around dignity or the refusal to feel shame how might we make every decision in creating a new breast pump with dignity at the core why should women feel ashamed of a superpower that in turn led to this which is a compact battery-powered wearable breast pump the women can discreetly insert into the raw and they can pump and achieve their breastfeeding goals without having to put their life on pause it wasn't the easiest solution to get to it's not the fastest pump it's not the cheapest but we're hearing that mothers love it the second thing we can do to help technologies to be good is to be wrong early what of innovators have a vision about what they want to achieve and they're driven and motivated by that vision but the thing about vision says they don't have any nasty surprises on them and reality always does another one of our teams was designing one of the first virtual reality headsets the idea was to contemporize the old view-master 3d slave viewer that those of us of a certain age remember fondly for Mattel and we're gonna use a parent's smartphone to create a stereo display that a kid could then use to experience VR we built a prototype to allow us to experience that early allow us to see if there was any unforeseen complications that we might want to get ahead of this prototype was this compact lightweight holder for the screen with a nice comfortable strap around the head we put it on a little boy he saw the virtual world for the first things like this is awesome and he just started running my hammer straight into the first of all this was a good thing to learn early we removed the head strap we made the design that was that was the first rule to say we removed the head strap we made the design a little bigger and bulkier so little kids got bored holding it up after about 30 seconds we design digital content that could be enjoyed in 30-second bites and then it became a viable product also gave the parents more opportunity to grab their phone back the third thing that you can do to help technology to be good is to get out of your own bubble like-minded people get excited about the same ideas they all start working on them together that's great but it can lead to blame spots so I've learned that it's really important to seek diverse perspective and critique as you're developing your idea this is Barbara she's our company's oldest employee she might actually be Silicon Valley's oldest employee she's 94 and she's holding a prototype that she built and for years Barbara has been working with our useful and exuberant design teams to give them feedback on things they might not have realized time and time again Barbara has held our people see past their blind spots and improve the quality of their designs so are three simple things we can do to help technology to be good simple but profile I believe that if we start with people build prototypes and seek perspective then we can move forward with technology in a way that allows us to put our fingers on the scale and cause the pros outweigh the cons and if enough creative idealistic people shared our belief then I think we've got every reason to be optimistic about our relationship with technology and look beyond this uncomfortable moment that we're in right now so next time I'm with my daughter and there are unicorns around I'm gonna keep the phone in my pocket and I'm gonna imagine the amazing things that we can create together to improve people's lives and make the world a better place and who knows maybe someday we'll be able to bring those unicorns to life thank you you

2 Comments

  1. 2bobbyz said:

    Right on mister!.. Bounteous conveyance of design ideology!… spoken with a true Scottish accent, straight from the heart… Nice one!..

    June 29, 2019
    Reply
  2. Kevin Richardson said:

    Nice job David!

    June 29, 2019
    Reply

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