Smart objects for emotional people

Notes from a punchy 15 minute talk by Jennifer Dunnam of Frog, looking at how objects can be used to enhance emotional intelligence

This week I am in SXSW - a huge interactive conference in Austin Texas, and Internet of Things is very much the talk of the town. 

"It's easy to be so immersed in technology, we forget what we know about life.” Sherry Turkell 

This can be especially true at Austin, so it was great that the first session I went to was a punchy 15 minute talk by Jennifer Dunnam of frog, looking at how objects can be used to enhance emotional intelligence. So far, very fitting with the themes of objects sandbox. 

She showed some great examples (and some less great ones) of connected things which use technologies like biometrics and gaze tracking to sense emotion and personalise output: 

AIDA (Affectionate, Intelligent Driving Agent) robot developed by Volkswagen and MIT is designed to be an in-car buddy to not only help you find your way, but to keep you company on the road.

An old one but a good one is Paro, a therapeutic robot seal, intended to have a calming effect on hospital patients. 

But Dunnam raises concerns about whether this technology is trying to replace people:

“Should you meet the needs of people with something that basically suckers them?” Clifford Nass, a professor of computer science at Stanford University.

What makes us human is our relationships with ourselves, other people and our environment, so a successful connected object might seek to increase our emotional awareness: 

Philips’ Rationalizer enhances awareness for online investors:

Or our self control:

Nevermind is a biofeedback-enhanced adventure horror game that takes you into the dark and twisted world of the subconscious. 

It might motivate us:

Or help us share what we are feeling with other, like Czerwinski's Chain-Mail vest.

However, eek - do we want people to know what we are feeling? Do we want advertising companies to be able to track our responses to their billboards?

Also, as Joi Ito said in a later panel, perhaps using biometrics to track how we feel isn't as simple as it seems. Our bodies are pretty great at deceiving us about what we feel for very good reasons. Perhaps it's better not to know?

Finally a good use of a connected object might be to augment or elicit empathy. Though I think it won’t be Huggies that corner that one:

 The slides for Jennifer's talk are here.