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Computer technology is inherently cold and impersonal. That’s been its draw since its inception. Technology doesn’t get marred down in the subjective. It simply provides output based directly on the given input. However, technology has evolved significantly in the last decade and we have become reliant on it in nearly every aspect of our lives. We want our technology to understand us. How would it feel if Siri actually knew that you were getting frustrated with its inability to answer your question? Empathy could be the future of technology.

Mark Zuckerberg Accidentally Shines A Focus on Empathy

Several weeks ago, Mark Zuckerberg angered the masses by using Puerto Rico to demonstrate new VR technology for his Facebook Spaces VR app. He stood on the roof of Facebook headquarters with a VR device strapped to his head and immersed himself in a flooded Puerto Rican street nearly 3,000 miles away. This stunt backfired, and people were angry that Zuckerberg’s smiling avatar was standing in the midst of heart-wrenching suffering and destruction.

To smooth things over, Zuckerberg said that his intention was to show how tech could be used to generate awareness and empathy for different parts of the world. Damage control? Yes. But he raised a valid point. Technology has never been “empathetic,” and our use of technology has arguably made us less empathetic by cutting out human interaction in favor of screen-based interaction.

Use-Cases for Empathy and Tech

Empathy could be the door that opens to making VR a technology that is accepted outside of gaming. There are multiple use-cases for empathy in tech including:

  • Customer service: Bots can quickly onboard a customer, they can become frustrating to users who are already in a heightened emotional state. Robots that could scan customer facial expressions in a store or gain understanding of a customer’s emotional state based on tone, volume, cadence and other clues, could make automation much more valuable in improving customer experience.
  • Medicine: Measuring pain is incredibly subjective. Technology that could take other factors into account when measuring pain to prescribe medication could help doctors make much stronger choices and improve patient experience and outcome.
  • Policing: There has been a great deal of attention placed on police shootings in recent years. VR technology could help put police on the other side of the gun, showing them what it is like to be pursued by a police officer or even shot by one. By literally turning the tables, police officers could use the empathy they gain from that experience to make more measured decisions in the field.
  • Charity: Mark Zuckerberg’s poor PR stunt does have very real market value for charities. Allowing people to step directly into an environment post-natural disaster or to see what it’s like to live in a third-world country or an impoverished domestic location, builds bridges that could yield much greater support.

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