(Thanks: Marlies Peeters)
(Thanks: Marlies Peeters)
From the dawn of humankind we have been creating technologies to extend our given bodies: a coat to survive in colder climates, a gun to kill at a distance, a car to travel faster. Typically, however, our technological extensions not only amplify but also numb certain aspects of our bodies. Examples? Just think of when you find yourself in a fitness center as you grew too fat from driving a car and not walking.
Arguably, the most desirable technologies are the ones that that take the human condition as a cornerstone. They resonate with our human senses (rather than numb them), feel natural (rather than estranging), empower people (rather than outsource them), and that realize the dreams people have of themselves. For lack of a better word we call them ‘humane technologies’.
Now here is an example what might be the most humane technology since the invention of the bicycle. Dutch mechanical-engineer Jarno Smeets dreams of flying like bird. Nothing new really, many people have had this dream for ages. Yet being an engineer and all, the guy is seriously propelling his dream towards a reality.
Using the accelerometers of the WiiMote and a smartphone, Jarnos is building a pair of human birdwings. Although there are still some serious technological hurdles to be taken – the birdwings will have to be semi-human powered as human muscle power isn’t sufficient to carry a person up into the air – the results so far are already impressive. Lift us Jarno!
The human body as an instrument is a cool example of how culture and nature are merging. Calvin Harris used a giant human synthesizer to perform his single. The material used is Conductive Ink, a material technology that delivers a new platform for non-toxic flexible electronics. Bare is unique among conductive inks because it is non-toxic, flexible, water soluble, and cures at room temperature.
For past entries and an introduction to the 11 Golden Rules of Anthropomorphism and Design, click here.
Making good use of anthropomorphism isn’t easy. As you’ve probably already noticed, people may dislike products purely because of their anthropomorphic elements. One way to reduce this risk is to downplay the anthropomorphic qualities: keep it as simple, subtle and abstract as possible. When the implementation is so subtle that most people won’t consciously notice it, they are less likely to be annoyed, while the product can still achieve the desired effect. Abstraction reduces the chance of directly evoking negative emotions, while preserving the positive associations.
The Senseo coffee maker, above, was designed to resemble a butler bowing down to serve a hot cup of java. The anthropomorphic form is not obvious, but it still succeeds in evoking the pleasant sensation of being served.
Possibly the answer for blind people with cynophobia, the fear of dogs. This robot guide dog is stil a bit slow compared to the old nature version, but as technology advances it will surely compete with the old, trusted, yet expensive guide dogs.
Through the years we have developed a greater and greater knowledge of the human body. Next to all these developments we have also been able to develop our technology on a smaller and smaller scale. Combining these two gives us the possibility to rebuild ‘broken’ human beings. Next level prosthetics grant disabled people new abilities to run, pick things up, utilize tools and now even feel.
Using a new form of nano-skin researchers have been able to place small pressure and heat sensors across a hands surface using nanowire. While taking medical developments further and further it becomes reality to connect these sensors to our nerves and actually start feeling again.
Here is a related TED talk that discusses a new prosthetic arm for veterans.
The video team of TEDxAmsterdam caught me mid-production and forced me to sit on a chair to respond to their upcoming conference theme: Human Nature. We discussed how people are technological by nature, yet how we also need humane technology to remain human, or become even more human than we are today.
TEDxAmsterdam is held on the 25th of November in the city theater of Amsterdam.
It works like this. Position yourself with a friend in front of a battery hen and flap your arms as fast as you can when the music sets in. The harder you flap the faster your bird will move towards a hole in the chain fence – which means freedom!
This installation was displayed at the Village Fete at the Victoria & Albert Museum, where young British designers show their talents. One of them, the creator of Flap to Freedom, is Chris O’Shea, an artist and designer who uses technology to create interactive environments.
O’Shea’s work shows that machines and technology can respond to human needs in a fun and playful way. However, Flap to Freedom doesn’t work like a rollercoaster or DVD player. Through the interaction emerges a certain connection between human and machine that could change our perception of them. It stands in the tradition of Philippe Starck’s design, which is intended to give the object a place in the human environment. The device becomes our companion and colleague.
Watch the video here.
Did you know that phones were once used for calling up our (human) friends? Researching the beginning of it all, we came accross demo video’s on the cloud called “internet” where people showed off how they tricked the first Siri-AI-devices into saying epic things like: “I don’t do knock knock jokes”. But the reason why this technology took such a leap, has everything to do with human “features” like personality, compassion and trust. From that moment in time, objects made from steel and glass have become our soulmates… our friends… our personal assistents… our pets… our slaves… Or were we theirs? Were we the ones being tricked?
Yes. We came to trust them because they were made to our image. They talked like our mothers and shared our brains and limbs. They could sense it if we were lonely and then played us music or said nice words. They tucked us in at night and woke us up the next morning.
Knock, knock! Species of the world, you are not alone. Matter is alive and there is plenty out there.
MyMicrobes, interestingly dubbed “Fecesbook” by ABC News, is the new social network for your gastrointestinal bacteria. For only $2,100 and a bit of poo you can become a member of this ingenious network which connects you to like minded people through your own gut bacteria.
Peer Bork, a biochemist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, created this network after receiving 50 to 100 emails from people having troubles with their stomach or having diarrhea. It might look strange to connect people based on their microbiomes, but researchers think it will help people with similar digestive profiles to share and gather information about their digestive health. In the meanwhile they hope to gather data which could help to guide treatments for various diseases.
Imagine telling your children you met your wife because you both had the same bowel problems.
By hooking up a commercially available EEG headset to a Nokia N900 smartphone, Jakob Eg Larsen and colleagues at the Technical University of Denmark in Kongens Lyngby have created a portable system to monitor neural activity of the brain. Wearing the headset and booting up an accompanying app, creates a simplified 3D model of the brain that lights up as brainwaves are detected. The brain-image can be rotated by swiping the screen. Furthermore, the app can connect to a remote server for more intensive data-processing, and then display the results on the cellphone. The system might assist people with conditions such as epilepsy, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and addiction. One small step for science, but a giant leap for health care. Source: newscientist.com
At Cornell Creative Machines Lab they were curious to see how two “chatbots” would make conversation. Powered by Cleverbot, created by AI researcher Rollo Carpenter, the robots were fooled into recognizing each other as humans. On YouTube someone comments: “If ever these two got married, it wouldn’t last a week.” But the contrary could be true if their somewhat intelligent chitchat helps them pass the Turing test. Till the switch do them part.
Swallowable Parfum is a digestible scented capsule that works through your own perspiration. Once absorbed, fragrance molecules are excreted through the skin’s surface. A unique odor is emanated, depending on each individual’s acclimatization to temperatures, to stress, exercise, or sexual arousal.
By nature, man is not meant to fly. But while we’re at it, we may as well turn it into an experience. Charles Champion, Airbus Executive Vice President Engineering, envisions a fusion of dream and technology:
“Our research shows that passengers of 2050 will expect a seamless travel experience while also caring for the environment. The Airbus Concept Cabin is designed with that in mind, and shows that the journey can be as much a voyage of discovery as the destination.”
Catalytic Clothing is a fashionably calm technology that aims to tackle air pollution by embedding a substance in the clothing that purifies air when you wear it.
The purifying effect is established by treating clothes with a photo-catalyst that is able to break down air borne pollutants from industry and motor vehicles. This photo-catalyst can simply be added to your clothing in a normal laundry procedure.
It almost all sounds too good to be true, until you read that a significant reduction in the level of air borne pollutants in a large city such as London will only be achieved if, for every meter of pavement width, 30 people wearing catalytic clothes walked past each minute – unsure if you can still breathe in such a crowded space.
Nonetheless we must applaud the symbolic power of the concept. And luckily, the photo-catalyst can also be added to paints, cements and paving stones.
The Catalytic Clothing project is a collaboration between artist/designer Helen Storey and chemist Tony Ryan. Thanks Kat Chan.
Remember the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where Jim Carrey removes his memories of a relationship with Kate Winslet? According to researchers at the University of Montreal, it is now possible to reduce the brain’s ability to record negative emotions using the drug metyrapone. Just like in the movie, metyrapone blocks the brain from recalling bad memories.
Metyrapone is not a new drug. It is often used to diagnose adrenal insufficiency, but researchers have now discovered its effect on the stress hormone cortisol. Metyrapone decreases the levels of cortisol at the time of a stressful event. Decreasing these levels, as trials suggest, impairs the formation of memories of that event. These tests are in their early stage, but show serious promise. Can we still cherish our happy memories if we do not have any negative ones?
And now for the sixth and final principle: Humane technology improves the human condition and helps people realize the dreams they have of themselves.
No matter what your government might be telling you, we probably don’t need better defense technology. Instead of killer robots and city-leveling bombs, we need tech that adds to the very best in ourselves- our health, our minds and our dreams for the future. Naturalist E.O Wilson’s notion of biophilia should not be limited just to humans. Technology should love life as much as we do.
Humane technology, as a concept, can be tricky to pin down. What is humane in one circumstance is irritating or destructive in another. A cell phone may be more humane than a landline, permitting the talker to wander around, free to conduct business or call home from the far side of the globe. But cell phones may be inhumane for precisely this reason. A Blackberry or iPhone can seem less like an indispensable fifth limb than a second mouth that just won’t shut up. A technology can never defined as entirely humane or entirely inhumane. There is no end point that makes a certain device ‘humane.’ We may not know it by how it looks, but we will know it by how it feels.
Principle number five: Humane technology doesn’t outsource people, but instead empowers them.
How healthy or humane is it to have an escalator to the gym? Humane technology should not aim to replace the human mind and body. Rather, it should be used as a tool to augment existing capabilities. The Cheetah Flex-Foot, a prosthetic foot and lower leg, integrates with a user’s existing knee and upper leg to enable comfortable walking and running. Users are at least as fast as those with flesh-and-blood feet, and may even be faster thanks to the mechanical efficiencies of springy metal. The initial design was closely modeled on the human foot, but evolved into a sleeker blade-like shape that’s more cheetah than person. The Flex-Foot is therefore not an exact replacement for the human form, but a way to radically re-imagine it.