Thoughts from team Maslo on how to build empathetic technology.
Increase the Empathy
At Maslo we think about technology first and foremost as an integral part of the human condition. We don’t think of it as an abstract tool or some artificial construct or some mechanical utility. Technology is an extension and an expression of our humanity. It has been part of at times what reduces our humanity and at other times increases it.
The best long term approach would be to increase our humanity, while recognizing we can’t always know the best ways to do that.
This is why we started Maslo and why we continue to build the platform we are building today. Instead of trying to create a suite of technology functions people find useful or efficient to get work done or build something or send a message to another person or manage assets, we set out to actually figure out how to increase the empathy of technology. We want to figure out the fundamental conditions of humanity increasing approaches to technology. The hypothesis is that if we can grow empathetic technology capability then it can be infused into every technology.
Empathy to us is a more general form of understanding. Not just an intellectual, logical or reasoned understanding of the facts and inductive, deductive connection of dots but instead a broader shared experience.
But let’s not be confused about whether we mean something strange and best left in the self-help and metaphysics section (which can be wonderful sources of inspiration, btw). No, at Maslo empathy is an important, measurable and learnable aspect of reality and animal life. In fact, it might be at the very heart of what it means to be alive (and trust us, there is no clear definition of what life is by even leading scientists on the matter). Empathy is the measurable capacity of another entity to share the real, physical and material existence of others. Not a facsimile or a reductive summary of the experience of others but to actually “go through” the experience of others. Empathy is an active experiencing of shared consequences.
This can be measured by a variety of signals and metrics precisely because empathetic creatures are affected by the same signals as those entities for which it is empathetic. For example, most people tend to consider dogs as empathetic companions to humans. They observe that dogs experience their shared physical and relational conditions in coincidental ways. Dogs hear, see, smell, feel the environment of humans while not completely the same within spitting distance the same. Dogs physical size is even within the human frame of reference. So while dogs are different than humans yet they clearly share the world/same spaces/same consequences probably more than any other non-human creatures. We can reliably measure dogs and humans responses to similar signals, environments and responses to and between each other.
An empathetic technology must process those raw signals independently as well as socially with humans and other technologies. And, perhaps the biggest point, these signals should primary be used for associative bindings between CONSEQUENCES and not be over interpreted for meaning (semantic or logical etc). That is, if a technology is recording audio of a speaker the specific words are only a small set of the signal. The tone, tenor, speed, intensity of the speech pattern, the physical context of the speech, the positioning of the observer, any audience present, and the operating relationship of the observer (device, etc) are all relevant aspects of the overall raw signal. And that new raw signal must always be put in relation to other previously experienced raw and synthesized signals. What ends up being the key to empathetic intelligence and complexity is being able to notice changes in the signals as it relates to changes in the consequences of those signals.
So empathetic technology must always have a flow of signals in which to consider how signals change in relation to each other. The detection of consequences emerge from the analysis of the detection of changes in future signals. For example… if many speech acts are recorded by an empathetic technology, the technology will create a consequential association between the various aspects of the speech acts. Perhaps a high intensity speech act within a work environment tends to be associated with a low intensity, low speed speech act in a home setting. An empathetic technology would become aware of that by participating in emitting similar behavioral acts in accordance to similar environmental and behavioral contexts.