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Media Future Week | September 27, 2021

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Robert Overweg: Technology and Empathy

Robert Overweg: Technology and Empathy

Robert Overweg is an artist and expert on virtual worlds; he believes, and brought the research to back up, that technology needs to provide an emotional experience to users. He shared some compelling examples of how people are already connecting on an emotional level with technology, and the important role technology can play in facilitating empathy.

Emotional Technology
We obviously already use technology to connect with other people, but Robert shared examples of people connecting directly with the technology itself:
– 25% of Amazon Echo users have said ‘I love you’ to it
– 11% of people who interact with the virtual assistant (Amy) say Thank You to ‘her’
These interesting statistics pair nicely with Scott Smith’s talk on the rise of bots from this morning.

Emerging Technology
Virtual reality (VR) is on its way, everyone may have an opinion on when it will really take off, and how big its impact will actually be, but we’ve seen and experienced it here this week at the Pop-Up VR Cinema. Robert shared examples of VR being used to throw people into situations that they would never have had without VR. Some examples were:
Across the Line – Experiencing anti-choice abortion extremists first hand at an abortion clinic
Clouds Over Sidra – A tour through a refugee camp by a 12 year old girl who lives there
Millions March NYC 12.13.14 – A protest from the streets of New York City to end racial profiling
These types of situations allow poeple to find empathy for groups and circumstances that they would never come across in their daily life.

Empathy vs. Ethics
Robert is quick to admit that these shocking experiences don’t come without a risk. The ethics of exposing different types of people to these images is a legitimate question that needs to be factored in. This difficulty is magnified because it’s impossible to tell how different people will be affected by different content.

Robert Overweg @ MFW16 from iMMovator on Vimeo.