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Empathetic technology and the sustainability revolution

Key takeaways from OpenText World 2020

This is a guest blog by Professor Sally Eaves.

It was my pleasure to listen to fantastic keynote sessions by leading neurologist and technologist Dr. Poppy Crum, and climate leader and former US Vice President Al Gore at Open Text World 2020. ‘The Great ReThink’ really encapsulates the ethos – both talks were united in their optimistic and aspirational outlook to addressing the greatest challenges of our time by adopting and investing in technology innovation. Here are my key takeaways.

Empathic technology  

We are entering the era of the empath and faster than we may think! In her keynote, Dr Poppy Crum brought to life the future of human co-evolution alongside rapid technology advances. This is not about technology emulating human emotions but rather how technology can detect, collect, analyze and apply our personal data, the biological cues from our skin, voice, body temperature, eyes and especially our ears – the fastest place to ‘read and write’ the brain. Indeed, our bodies quite literally radiate our stories, from the audience Co2 reactions to a film, to our skin reactions when watching the ‘big match’ – we broadcast the signature of our emotions. So how can we best harness these signatures?

“We have a chance to bridge divides and connect with different cultures and perspectives in ways we never have. In public and in our homes, we’ll be able to constantly live, work, train and heal

Dr. Poppy Crum

Whilst so often the narrative is on data knowing so much about us that it raises concerns around privacy, security and even surveillance, the focus here was very much on what technology and data can enable for good, helping to better understand us and adapt to our needs – something ever more critical as we all experience the world and interact with technology very differently. One size of tech does not fit all, we need to reflect differences by design and allow heightened capabilities for personalisation.

Based on a foundation of ubiquitous sensors enabled by AI and Machine Learning, Dr Crum explores many applications including enhancing wellbeing and personalised medicine, optimising physical and cognitive space, extreme personalisation of our devices and advancing democracy in technology use and application. Specific examples include scanning eyes for regular health checks and the early prediction and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and similar conditions by voice – with empathic technology anticipated to advance this process by an incredible 10 years. And reflecting on the global acceleration of remote/hybrid working and communication mediated by technology such as video conferencing, the notion of ‘moving beyond’ the current context to Avatar populated 3D virtual space holds real promise to deepen connection. In combination, this keynote foregrounded a future of heightened partnership between people and machines, with empathic technology a key catalyst.

‘Aim high – Do good’

This was the ethos of Al Gore’s keynote and one in which the interrelatedness of many of today’s global problems was brought to the fore. From COVID-19 and climate change, to systemic injustice and racism, these crises are connected – but the solutions can and must be linked too. Putting this into context, lower income communities are suffering disproportionally, often living in inadequate housing built in areas of poor public infrastructure and high pollution levels that affect climate change – with air pollution an increased factor for COVID infection and mortality too. And given the increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters such as wildfires, the cycle of interaction and impact continues – it’s all interwoven.

Al Gore’s response is positive, technology and data driven and focused on connected action. He heralds the rise of the Sustainability Revolution, a moment to ‘rethink, reset and redesign’ for a sustainable recovery – described as similar in scale to the Industrial Revolution, and as rapid and pervasive as its Digital counterpart. Examples of this in action include optimising the growth in data now available with AI and Machine Learning analysis to revolutionize the consumption of resources and support the elimination of waste. Another strong development is advancements in making hydrogen with zero marginal cost for renewable energy, taking hydrogen batteries out of the sphere of science fiction and into scalable reality.

The Climate Trace coalition led by Al Gore, tech companies and non-profits exemplifies driving collective and informed change, as discussed in the post keynote Q&A with OpenText CEO and CTO Mark Barrenechea. Anticipated to go live during 2021, Climate Trace brings together depth of expertise with sensor data from air, land and sea, and AI and Machine Learning to track human caused emissions to specific sources real time – doing this independently and with transparency to inform decision making and drive accountability too. And echoing the optimistic people-tech partnership tone of Dr Crum’s session, history provides some reassurance as to what comes next. The time is now to make 2020 a year of reflection and re-imagination for a better shared future.

“Every morally-based movement faced challenges that could lead to despair. But when they saw the stakes, the positive outcomes became inevitable. 2020 will be remembered as a needed and inspirational turning point

Al Gore

While the live event has ended, the experience hasn’t. Visit our website to watch the keynotes on demand and get a backstage pass to new OpenText products and features, including roadmaps and product demos.

Professor Sally Eaves

Prof. Sally Eaves is Senior Policy Advisor for the Global Foundation of Cyber Studies & Research and CEO of Aspirational Futures which enhances inclusion and diversity in education and technology. A highly experienced Chief Technology Officer, Professor in Advanced Technology and Global Strategic Advisor, Sally is an Author and Speaker on Digital Transformation (Cloud Computing, Cyber Security, IoT, AI, Blockchain, 5G), Culture, Skills, Sustainability and Social Impact. 

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