A Human-Centered Approach to Emerging Technologies

Technology, as we know it today, will undoubtedly be archaic in the coming years. The advancement of artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), and the Internet of Things (IoT) are a few of the many emerging technologies that will innovate every application and service we’ve become so familiar with. Because of the changing technological landscape, companies -- regardless of size -- will have to adopt these technologies at some point to stay competitive.

In addition to staying competitive, companies will have to ask themselves, “How will our research and development address essential human needs?” Because technology has become irreversibly intertwined with our society, these emerging technologies will require a grander purpose.


Is Your Company Prepared for Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation hones in on key customer behaviors, and often uses real-time data to center a product or service around the evolving needs of customers. Emerging technologies will only be useful to a company if they know how to leverage them to provide a comprehensive customer experience at every possible touchpoint.

Let’s take for example the logistics behind our current elevator system -- getting the passenger from point A to point B without having to take the stairs. It’s a simple concept, but is there room for improvement?

Schindler’s PORT Technology sought to revolutionize vertical transportation using a destination-dispatch system. It analyzes a building’s traffic pattern and elevator demand times at different points throughout the day, predicts when a certain elevator will be called, and then uses that data to calculate the fastest time to reach a destination. This technology has been able to reduce elevator wait times up to 50% in some buildings.

Image: PORT Technology

Image: PORT Technology

This is a phenomenal example of a company that is prepared for digital transformation. They saw a pocket for disruption and capitalized on it by effectively learning the customer behavior, and designing a solution that betters the customer experience.

Digital transformation is driven partly by new technologies, but mainly from evolving customer behavior -- and that’s worth investing some resources in understanding.

Leveraging Emerging Technologies

Physical components of technology like embedded sensors and processors combined with smarter software, connectivity, cloud computing, big data analytics, and more have made it easier to understand customer behavior and the purpose a product may have in their lives.

With access to all this information, it’s imperative that companies commit to developing a human-centered approach around these emerging technologies to make sure the solutions they design are solving problems, not creating more.

At the moment, most emerging technologies are still in relatively early stages -- which makes this a perfect time for companies to familiarize themselves if they haven’t already done so.

AI perhaps sits at the top of the list of emerging technologies because it will be incorporated in every product or service at some level. Companies are already harnessing the power of AI because it’s able to process and understand massive amounts of data faster than humans ever could.

AI will drive patient-centered solutions in the healthcare industry. Through AI and deep learning, machines will be able to detect diseases like cancer more accurately in their early stages. This technology is enabling physicians to review things like mammograms and CT scans up to 30 times faster with 99 percent accuracy. AI will not only improve the patient-experience and their clinical outcome, but make the lives of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers easier.

Machine learning, a subset of AI, will improve the way machines learn how to complete a desirable task by using complex algorithms. By leveraging machine learning, Therm is able to custom build solutions for the retail energy sector -- allowing companies to be more responsive to their customers, reduce business risk, and increase operational efficiency.

Voice interfaces and chatbot technology will be the future of how customers interact with mobile and Web applications. By 2020, ComScore estimates that 50% of all Web searches will be spoken, and 30% of searches will be done without even looking at a screen!

Clearly, aligning technology with human needs is not only beneficial to the customer, but to companies as well. In the case of Amazon’s Echo, we vocalize our needs to the device which, in turn, allows the AI-assistant to gather more data and learn more about us. This data can then be used to build an even better product in the future that will delight the customer, increase their loyalty to Amazon, and promote competition in the market.

VR has busted out of the box of video gaming as more of its teaching capabilities are coming to light. Using the power of VR, AcclimateVR has designed learning modules for children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Image: AcclimateVR.com

Image: AcclimateVR.com

Checking out with a cashier may seem like an everyday task, but to someone with ASD, this situation could be quite overwhelming. These modules expose the user to real-world environments in which they can learn to develop social skills, independent living skills, safety awareness, and more situations that are typically challenging for people with ASD.

Wearable technology has proven to be one of the most popular physical platforms in which emerging technologies can be implemented on. Technology that can be accessorized or implanted is also fit to collect richer data from the customer. Fitness devices that monitor blood pressure and heart rate, or watches with smartphone capabilities are designed to make the customer experience more seamless.


Table 1: Forecast for Wearable Devices Worldwide 2016-2018 and 2021 (Millions of Units)

Device 2016 2017 2018 2021
Smartwatch 34.80 41.50 48.20 80.96
Head-mounted display 16.09 22.01 28.28 67.17
Body-worn camera 0.17 1.05 1.59 5.62
Bluetooth headset 128.50 150.00 168.00 206.00
Wristband 34.97 44.10 48.84 63.86
Sports watch 21.23 21.43 21.65 22.31
Other fitness monitor 30.12 30.28 30.97 58.73
Total 265.88 310.37 347.53 504.65

Source: Gartner (August 2017)


IoT shipboard sensors will help tugboat provider Caterpillar save up to $650,000 annually. With more accurate data collection and predictive maintenance analysis, Caterpillar is now able to lower the energy output of their generators. This industrial IoT technology will lead to less wastage and have a positive impact on the environment by reducing pollution.

There are so many different ways to incorporate these emerging technologies with new or existing products; but without a plan to use these technologies to effectively improve the customer’s experience, the product’s lifespan is only so limited.


Designing Tech with People in Mind

A report called Technology Vision 2017 surveyed 5,400 companies across 16 different industries and 31 different countries about the future state of technology and the role it should play in increasing human capabilities. A staggering 80% of respondents stated that they want tech organizations to not only understand what they want now, but what they’ll want in the future.

That being said, customers aren’t necessarily asking for a life-changing experience, they just expect emerging technologies to be able to keep up with their evolving behaviors. Customers want a product that will not only keep them engaged, but have them coming back for more.

To do this, technology should operate at a more human level. Too often, products will be launched based off of how “innovative” a company thinks it is, and how well it performs within their parameters. Development would start immediately without addressing the problem that your product will solve -- and that’s one of the reasons why technology fails. Even large enterprises aren’t immune to these pitfalls.

Remember Tay, the Twitter bot from Microsoft that turned into a racist chatbot? Tay had to be shut down and many users were offended in the process. Microsoft’s problem was that they focused more on the innovativeness of Tay, and didn’t consider how the human element would factor in.

When building a new product, projects should start with the problem, not the technology. And to account for human behavior, user feedback should be sought throughout the process. To succeed, companies will need to develop a human-centered approach around these technologies and design not only for user goals but also for behavior and impact. Doing so will help you build an effective product that simplifies and improves the lives of your customers.

Companies that empathize with their customer’s desires and put them first will position themselves to use emerging technologies more efficiently. Whether now or in the future, customers will want to use products that they feel were made for them. Technology alone will no longer suffice. Using emerging technologies, companies will have to design solutions that are accessible for a wider range of audiences. The goal then is to design technology that aligns with their needs. Designing with a human-centered approach makes this possible.