The news of a personal electricity-powered Tesla Model S crashing into a truck as a result of an error of the auto-pilot mode that was activated at the time and killing the driver has prompted people to question yet again whether we are ready to surrender our decision making to machines and to what extent we should trust them with our properties and lives.
Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors, has expressed his condolences and stated that this is the first accident ever after the system has been used for more than 130 million miles, while a motor vehicle death occurs every 60 million miles worldwide. In addition, each car notifies its drivers to keep their hands on the wheel the entire time while the auto-pilot mode is on. This incident has shaken the entire driverless industry but also the confidence of many companies and institutes that are developing future vehicles, artificial intelligence, robotic innovation, and other inventions.
Even though there is no definite conclusion at the moment, this serves as a lesson that should prompt every party involved to take a hard and careful look again at the safety of artificial intelligence as decision making in emergencies requires skills, instinct, and consideration of the unusually complex circumstances. Even a leading advocate for innovation like Musk said, “At one point, artificial intelligence might become humanity’s biggest existential threat.” Similarly, a number of institutes have proposed that we should design robots that understand human emotions or possess more humanity and empathy.
Empathy, or the ability to put oneself in others’ shoes and adopt their perspectives, is nothing new. (Read a short history of design thinking here.) When an innovation fails or does not meet the needs of the target group, most of the time, one reason for it is that designers do not investigate consumer behavior and overlook human diversity. Nowadays, empathy-driven design has become an integral instrument for every profession, from executives and automakers to politicians and medical professionals.
José Gomez-Marquez, an avid inventor and medical equipment designer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes that the people who spend more time with patients than doctors and thus witness more problems with medical care are nurses. Therefore, he established a maker space called “MakerNurse” within the University of Texas Medical School, through which doctors and nurses can share work experience, problems, and opinions, not only to seek solutions or create new medical instruments with design thinking but also to enable them to co-design better experience for those visiting the hospital on the basis of empathy.
Even Microsoft, often criticized for developing outdated innovation, has turned its attention to identifying unmet needs. Kat Holmes, the director responsible for the development of the intelligent personal assistant Cortana on Windows OS (an analog of Apple’s Siri), has found that previously the team focused too much on the engineering and forgot to study user behavior and question why anyone would want this personal assistant. Therefore, Holmes has caught the attention of many as one of the new generation of designers who might pull Microsoft through its crisis.
Let’s get back to Elon Musk. Tesla’s plan to create a completely driverless vehicle and SpaceX, Musk’s collaboration with NASA aimed at sending a rocket to Mars for exploration, seem to demonstrate humanity’s hubris and desire to overcome its own limitations. However, the principles behind self-driving cars, energy management, and space exploration for a new habitable world all point to mankind’s desire for survival, better lives, and readiness for future challenges, ranging from extreme climatic patterns to the explosion of human population to over 9.7 billion in 2050 while the need for natural resources, fossil fuels, and biomass will triple by the same year. The world is also being ushered into the era of hyperconnectivity, where hypertransparency in every aspect is called for. As such, the transition to the 4.0 era is accompanied by almost limitless opportunities for life, job creation, and businesses. At the same time, it will represent both capital and risks for manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and consumers to adapt to. However, eventually, all the advancement will amount to nothing if it fails to truly meet the needs of the users.
To shape the direction of the future, it is necessary to study and understand the behavior and needs of individual humans, not just to make the fewest mistakes possible but to imbue technology with more humanity and enable it to correctly identify and satisfy user needs or even help humans make better decisions.
Join us in our quest for new solutions and exits at CU 2016: EXIT this October
“Meet four people helping to design the future of microsoft”
“Tesla has just put in an offer to acquire SolarCity”
“Regulators Open Investigation Into Fatal Crash in Tesla on Autopilot”
“World Population Prospects The 2015 Revision” by the United Nations
“Humanity Can and Must Do More with Less: UNEP 2011” by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)