Blog: Tech and the Human Touch

Article By : Junko Yoshida

How does the tech community pitch its pet technologies to non-gamers, non-drivers, and those troglodytes who live elsewhere than Silicon Valley?

It’s easy to pitch technologies to an installed base of fans, geeks and cheerleaders who favor everything about 5G, AI, IoT and autonomous vehicles. For gamers, Tesla fans, app developers, smartphone junkies, tech media and venture capitalists, every announcement on beefed-up Teraflops, speeded-up Gigabits, and increased Mega-pixel images is a new and glorious bombshell.

This is everyday life in the tech community. I breathe the same air and write about it every day.

But here’s a question: How does the tech community pitch its pet technologies to non-gamers, non-drivers, and those troglodytes who live elsewhere than Silicon Valley?

I think of this whenever I’m back in Japan where my aging mother resides. When I see my mom, who is 91 years old, I struggle to explain what I do on my job as a technology reporter.

Of course, she knows that I file stories about tech and business. But that’s hardly enough to convey why I get up in the morning and do what I do with a renewed energy, a sense of wonder and joy.

How do I translate the excitement I feel every time I encounter technologies that I didn’t even know existed before?

My mother isn’t a gamer, she doesn’t drive, and she has no idea what “AR” and “VR” stand for.

As a reporter, I look for engineers and technologists who can articulate the problems they think their technologies can solve. The job gets better when my sources gush with enthusiasm for the anticipated outcome — what their technologies can do for people. I glaze over when I’m given a canned marketing pitch that touts a technology for its own sake. I seek engineers who can express their passion in ways I can communicate to my mother.

EETimes on Air: MEMS: Fun, Fun, Fun in the Future ● The Linley Conference ● The Flakiest AI Startup

My EE Times’ colleague Anne-Francoise Pele recently interviewed Peter Hartwell, CTO of TDK InvenSense.

Peter Hartwell
Peter Hartwell

Hartwell gave stellar answers on a panoply of sensor-related topics. They ranged from the roles he envisions for sensors in the future, the emergence of sense-intensive “autonomous companions” that follow people around, and a new type of VR content, which even an older generation of non-gamer parents might regard as cool. 

If you haven’t listened to our “EE Times on Air” yet, I recommend starting with the segment (starting at 21:08 in Episode #61) in which Hartwell gushes about his vocation and discusses a future in which technologies become invisible.

He told us:

Technology transcends and becomes transparent. So, when I look at where I am trying to go, and moving forward, is… how do we make that technology just disappear into around us to where we are no longer surprised that technology worked or did something. It just becomes natural.

Hartwell’s description of an “autonomous companion” fascinated me. I liked that he didn’t call it a robot. When the electronics industry talks about automation and robotics, the first thing that pops up in everyone’s mind is a service robot that takes over repetitive, laborious tasks. But here, Hartwell is talking about a “companion” — something akin to Aibo, Sony’s robotic dog. Now, by integrating many more sensing and learning capabilities, Hartwell expects the robotic dogs of tomorrow to relegate Aibo to the back of the pack.

I remember watching a Honda TV commercial with my mom in Japan more than 15 years ago. It showed a bunch of Honda’s Asimo humanoids. They were running around a new Honda that had somehow appeared in a rural village somewhere in Europe. The flock of Asimos were giddy over the new car, following it around like children after the Pied Piper.

Watching the TV commercial, my mom said, “I wish I had one of those at home to keep me company.”

Voila. I think that’s the essence of Hartwell’s “autonomous companion.”

Killer VR app
In our radio interview, Hartwell also talks about AR/VR. He explains that the industry is still in a stage of figuring out to create the best content for VR. The question, he said, is how do we accelerate this development until VR becomes “a platform to consume or experience things they couldn’t do before?”

Travel might be the answer, or shopping. But Hartwell saw the possibilities more personally. He said, “I was able to digitize myself skiing, and put my Dad skiing with me, and his grandson in VR.”  After Hartwell showed it to him, his Dad took off his VR headset and said, “Wow, I never thought I would get to go skiing with my grandson.”

Notably Hartwell’s father didn’t say that the VR experience was a cool picture. “I went skiing with my grandson” is how he described his VR experience and how he will remember it.

If that’s not what technology’s really for, what is?

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