The ultimate goal of the designers in every technology company is to ensure that humans and machines work in perfect harmony. In this short essay, I will describe how technology can be used not only to help form harmony amongst disparate teams within large organizations, but I will also help describe ways in which technology can be used to actually help individuals achieve harmony.

To refresh your understanding of harmony:

There are very clever ways in which technology can be used to help form harmony within organizations.

Serious Games to achieve organizational harmony

I began my career at IBM 8 years ago incubating our very first serious games practice for marketing and then within GBS. Serious games are when one uses video games to do more than just entertain. Games can be incredibly adept at explaining complex systems. The first games my team and I designed, helped to explain concepts like business process management. These process optimization games received quite a bit of attention from the United States Dept of Defense and before I knew it, I was invited to present at a DARPA innovation summit on how these kinds of games could be used for Disaster Preparedness and strategic optimization.

I had the opportunity to hear a profound speech by the 4-star general who at the time was responsible for United States Transportation Command. They manage the logistics across all the branches of the military, such that when there is an earthquake in Haiti (which occurred the month prior to this speech). They have to get the right resources, to the right places, at the right cost, whilst working with the entire supply chain of NGOs and foreign governments.  He showed us a timeline of all the events that his organization had to respond to in the last 9 months and around the world. He stated: “How can we as an organization have ever been able to be prepared for even a subset of things on this list much less ALL of them.” Then he said, “even more importantly, how are we supposed to have been able to VET what we have to do with the whole supply chain, well before boots hit the ground and the money has been spent. We are looking at advanced serious games as a means to not only visualize the complex systems but use this safe strategy game interface to get psychological buy-in or accord well in advance so that we might build in essence a dynamic best practice playbook.”

This is one of my favorite examples of how organizations can achieve harmony through technology. Through the use of a game to visualize the complex system of a disaster response scenario, plugging in real data sets for all stakeholders to play through in advance, all whilst possibly training an AI on optimized responses is a fantastic way to make it safe to test assumptions and ultimately vet best practices.  Needless to say, we co-presented a prototype for a Multiplayer Real Time Strategy game powered by BPM and AI to the Secretary of Defense. (See Red Book entry. See demo video.)  In fact within IBM there are now efforts to use strategy games to help countries better plan for pandemics (given how discordant organizations were in response to the Ebola pandemic).

Design thinking to strive for empathy

I believe that to achieve harmony, one must also strive for empathy. Design Thinking is another great tool to use to help organizations reach harmonious states and empathy plays a big part in that. Having a deep understanding of the personas on a team, what motivates them, what are their pressures, constraints, all approached using empathy is a fantastic way of curating experiences that actually help people change mindsets. There have been numerous occasions where I have seen teams try to engage employees (to be more harmonious) and whilst skipping the Design Thinking process, they jump to conclusions on what motivates their people. Oftentimes they introduce bias and with bias comes erroneous assumptions which can then invite discord. Example: I want my employees to [work 20 hours extra per week] [use social tools more to collaborate] [participate in Innovation Jams and give us their ideas]… and in exchange, we will give them a platinum badge and put them on a leader board. It is very likely that no one cares about your platinum badge and dread being on a leader board. If you want to achieve harmony within a team or an organization, you have to take the great majority of your time to really understand your audience.

Individual Harmony and VR as the ultimate empathy machine

Many believe that the ultimate empathy machine may very well be Virtual Reality. (See Wired Magazine article.)

The director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab is running a research project called “Empathy at Scale” that explores ways to design, test, and distribute virtual reality projects that teach empathy. Experiments include whether seeing a 65-year-old avatar of yourself prompts you to save more for retirement. (It does.) Or if seeing the world through the eyes of a color-blind person will make you more willing to help him or her than if you just imagined it. (Again, yes. Twice as willing, in fact.)  From living in a refugee tent to facing the Ebola epidemic, the United Nations is using virtual reality to raise awareness of humanitarian crises around the world in hopes of creating empathy and inspiring change.  With technologies like these, one can feel humanity in a deeper way. This year’s Tribeca film festival offered several examples of VR movies exploring empathy themes including Testimony, an immersive movie about sexual assault. Becoming Homeless, is another Tribeca interactive experience that Stanford University is testing to see whether those who have experienced it have changes their mindsets after 8 weeks.

From Verge :

“In the accompanying study, whose results are currently undergoing review, researchers followed up Being Homeless with a series of questions. They asked participants about their feelings toward homeless people, in addition to measuring concrete behaviors like a willingness to sign an affordable housing petition. Participants’ responses provided new data points for the Virtual Human Interaction Lab’s substantial body of research. “We’ve been studying empathy in VR for a number of years now,” said project manager Elise Ogle at Tribeca. In limited, short-term studies, the lab has found that VR can prompt people to better plan for the future or be more environmentally conscious. With Becoming Homeless, the team also hopes to find out if positive effects persist after eight weeks — a length of time far longer than their previous studies have measured.”

A note on meditation

Some say that individual harmony is another term for happiness. According to some, the person who was deemed the happiest person alive is a Buddhist monk in Tibet. His secret: meditation. The University of Wisconsin places over 250 sensors on his head. Researchers found that not only did he produce off the charts gamma waves but his entire pre-frontal cortex lit up like a Christmas tree as he was meditating on empathy. This seemed to show that he has a massive capacity to be happy and indeed fewer tendencies to negative thinking.  Matthieu Ricard (the monk) states that ‘Meditation can completely change your brain and therefore changes what you are.

Well, I have tried meditation and it does not come easily to me. (Maybe it’s the fact that I have 4 children and I have to hide in my closet to take a phone call?) Perhaps there are ways to use technology and even gameplay to TEACH one how to meditate and change brainwave patterns.

There have been some seriously cool examples of games and even toys that do this and are being marketed to help people manage their stress.  The first example I saw of a game like this was at E3 well over 10 years ago. You played a superhero game whist wearing an early emotiv device. The only way that you could render your superhero invisible was by lowering your heart rate and changing your brainwave patterns to that of a semi meditative state.

There are similar style games created by some of our BPs that measures heart rate and brainwave patterns whilst playing games in order to treat PTSD in soldiers. (Shout out to Somnio Games.)

 

After a recipe for Hungry Hungry Hippos was posted to ODC thanks to the folks at IBM’s Academy of Technology, the same kids who designed Medical Minecraft at Connally High School in Texas are now tricking out their old school toys such that the only way that you can get your hippos to eat marbles (sans hands) is by going into a semi meditative state. They are now piloting the newly smart toy to kids going through chemo at the Dell children’s hospital. GENIUS!

Technology is a coin with two sides

As technology is a coin with two sides. It can be used for society to achieve both harmony per my examples as well as discord. It is relatively easy to use technology to disconnect people from one another, to instill fear, to relay fake news, reinforce negative stereotypes….to cause an even greater divide between us than already exists. (Nosedive episode of Black Mirror comes to mind.) With regards to virtual reality as an empathy machine, even if we assume VR can create true empathy, that empathy can be easily misused or exploited.  A poignant example of this was also demonstrated at this year’s Tribeca film festival in the form of the VR immersive movie called Extravaganza. Dripping in satire, it shows how VR can also be used to amplify our very worst traits. See Verge article.

In summary

So esteemed readers, in summary… in this age of discord, we have the tools and the means to bring more harmony into our lives. We must be ever vigilant that we are ethical in how we execute. For those that are lucky enough to trek off to Tibet and shed our Netflix accounts and smart phones, it may be easy. For the rest of us, I remain optimistic.


About the Author


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Phaedra Boinodiris will be keynoting the CROZ Conference in Zadar, Croatia on the topic of Harmony and Play on May 8, 2017 instead of hiding from her children in a closet to make phone calls. Phaedra and her manager Maureen are excitedly working on a new initiative in partnership with the UN influencing education in traditional and non-traditional learning spaces starting as early as kindergarten.

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