We must be mindful about how we engage with technology: what we use it for, why, and whether it helps or hinders us. Sometimes our tech seems to be flowing in inhumane directions, and it feels beyond our power to redirect it. But humankind dams rivers, and alters the landscape in countless other radical ways. We can redirect our technological growth. And why shouldn’t we direct it towards humans? Behold, our six principles of humane technology. Because let's design the future with people, not things, in mind.
#1: Humane technology feels natural
All too often, technology frustrates us. It forces our behavior into constrained pathways. Even more insidious, technology can knock us out of alignment with our values, goals or health. While conventional tech creates new problems even as it solves old ones, 'humane technology' has the opposite effect. It is a partner, not a passive tool. It works with our bodies and instincts, not against them.
#2: Humane technology revives human intuitions—in particular those we might have forgotten about
'Conventional' technology aims to overcome our hominid instincts, bodies, and physiological process, but humane tech augments them. Our feet are useful products of millions of years of evolution, but we deaden them in thick-soled shoes. Recent research indicates that barefoot runners have a softer, smoother gait than those who run shod, and may suffer fewer injuries. New shoe designs recognize that 'barefoot is best,' while trying to protect the foot from more recent human inventions: broken glass and slippery floors. Humane technology will help to return us to a more natural, physically attuned way of living.
#3: Humane technology takes human values as its cornerstone
Technology doesn't have to be expensive or electronic to be humane. The simpler the solution, the better the outcome. Taking human values into consideration for technology goes beyond basic humanitarian aims. The development of humane tech should consider the fact that any new device will be nested within a rich network of social actors. Designers needs to keep an eye on the societal and environmental ramifications of novel technologies and act accordingly.
#4: Humane technology resonates with the human senses, rather than numbing them
Humane technology recognizes that humans are sensory organisms, made to live in a rich three-dimensional environment. Neurologists have counted between 9 and 20 difference human senses. It's time we engage more than just the ones required to operate a computer. That blaring 7 AM alarm may be the norm, but it feels better to be awoken by the gradual glow of a sunrise-style lamp or pillow.
#5: Humane technology empowers people (instead of outsourcing them)
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.
#6: Humane technology improves the human condition
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. An 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.
About the images in this story: These photos are part of the series 'The Man Machine' by French photographer Vincent Fournier. It depicts 'speculative fictions' where robots interact with humans in everyday life. More about the project via this link.