Sometimes you get an email that you want to share with everyone. That's the email I got from Grace Meyer, student at the University of Auckland. She decided to review our interview for her college course requirement.
"One of my courses this semester (COMMS 300 – New Media and the Future of Communication) recently gave its students the task to review any text that predicts the future of digital technology. I came across your podcast episode on Future Tech, and was fascinated by the API technologies that you are developing and what this will mean for society in the future. I have attached my review in case you would like to read it."
Here's her review of the podcast below. Thanks for sharing this with me and allowing me to publish this on my blog. I hope you all enjoy and I would love your feedback. Here's the original podcast:
Listen to the podcast on:
Here's Grace in her own words:
In the podcast Future Tech, Shane Mac speaks as a CEO and co-founder of Assist (now Conversocial) and developer of AI technologies in the field of customer service software. The episode, titled ‘The Future of Building Technology to Build Relationships’ published July 6, 2020, presents utopian discourse surrounding users communicating with each other through digital technology, in contrast with users talking to the technology itself. With immense focus on utilizing unique and innovative forms of application programming interface (API) advancement such as voice assistant software and, in turn, “augmenting technology by automation”, Mac argues for an optimistic future in which digital technology allows for greater work efficiency, increased individual control, and importantly, strengthened connections within physical, social relationships. The future of digital technology, coined by Mac as ‘a world after apps’, claims that API technology will enable users to reconnect socially and disconnect digitally as language understanding and predictiveness becomes tied to the user’s intent.
To introduce the podcast, Mac outlines the evolution of the last twenty years of digital technology in three phases. The first phase is the ‘Search Era’, where users adapted to using search engines to retrieve the data. The second phase is the ‘Social Era’, where users increasingly engaged with interactive technology (namely social media) in unison, which simultaneously granted the internet an established identity. The third and most fundamental phase is the ‘Language Era’ or ‘Assistant Era’. This new era of digital technology possesses significant differences to the social era that will ultimately deliver “humanity, purpose and connection back to technology”, Mac argues, but has seldom been considered or understood within wider society thus far.The language era paired with API technologies serves as a tool to change the modern technological experience as it “removes friction, gets things done and rebuilds opportunities”, while simultaneously progressing in ways that users cannot yet foresee. This phase is based on the new accessibility for users to efficiently complete tasks with API technologies through voice assistants such as Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant services, alongside prediction-based user retrieval opportunities.
Mac claims that such “bots” have, considering significant funding, developed substantially in the past ten years with the objective of facilitating API system expansion, exposing global user systems and in turn, acquiring user data through feedback loops (a permanent, machine-readable record, equipped for user efficiency and subsequent systematic advancement). He estimates thousands of API systems are currently in development, each acquiring tools to analyze conversations and the users themselves. Here, language becomes the modern system within everyday situations, creating distance from “middle-ware software” such as websites and phone calls. For instance, Google Assistant can optimize API technology for consumer intent to book a haircut appointment, whilst any interaction a user has with the bot simultaneously provides an infinite loop to API systems about the user and their predictability, including potential future requirements or interests. Bot interaction is driven by trust, where “whoever the user trusts…is who they talk to, and who the user talks to is who can give the user everything they want” according to Mac.
Moreover, API technology permits bots to understand what cannot be programmed as a feedback loop, such as physical emotion, to generate an appropriate response based on how the user is feeling. Crystal is a personality insight tool that assesses the contact a user will communicate with based on how the contact speaks, before constructing a suitable talking style for the user to employ. Using languages as an interface is a contemporary phenomenon that is continually developing and expanding for numerous assistant-based bots, which Mac claims engenders a “layer above the apps”. Curiously, Mac states that the attenuation of apps has already occurred (excluding social media apps) due to“friction”, such as the time-consuming nature of installation or storage limitations. When apps are accessed, it is typically the result of a single use case with a particular intent.
An observable implication of this new era of digital technology is shown by large where Mac calls for redesigned consumerism. To “fundamentally change the way users grasp the market” within the language era is to recognize the desire for consumers to use messaging applications through habit as a tool that is “persistent and lasts forever”. In turn, applying the foundation of API technology as a “hybrid of bots and humans” to consumerism creates a messaging experience that surpasses modern day efficiency of middle-ware software. For example, insurance company Lemonade operates solely through bot interaction, reducing the “transactional” feel of human interaction within a business format. The relationship that virtual assistants have with users, according to Mac, is not a commodity, but rather an experience that increases the users’ value of life through personal connection with the bot. This relationship ensures reliability for the consumer, but also presents information that they would otherwise not consider, establishing a new form of ‘knowing ourselves’ and enhancing self-development within an individualistic society. One-on-one consumerism personalisation caters to the new emerging world with the goal of improving the customers experience through a “retention metric”, Mac argues.
API technology advancement may be approached through a technological solution lens, as Morozov would argue, where “frictionless” lives created by increasing efficiency of technology and elimination of undesirable features demotes other avenues of progress as problematic and supports an algorithm-based society (2014). I suspect that such ramifications of API technology surpass this idea for Mac, as he boldly elucidates that the social era will be replaced by interaction re-emerging within real life spheres through such advances. This highlights his acknowledgement, but great potential for, deviation from modern-day moral panics based on present technology implications that users are disproportionately immersed in online interaction. He argues, within the language era, technology will be “built to get us off of technology”, seen minutely today through the popularized use of Zoom where physical, video-based conversation online constitutes a strengthened relationship offline. While Mac acknowledges that humans are “disappearing” within digital technology through excessive time spent consuming content, he believes voice assistant software bots will directly enforce a positive societal change through technology consumerism. He dichotomies the digital backlash that API technology may introduce, with the promise that users will achieve the opposite outcome, utopian humanism. I will note that API technology as an emerging dictator of our digital future supports Negroponte’s prediction (2000) of technologies developing towards individually targeted filter bubbles and consequently detracting from users desires to consume media that symbolizes a community, but such ubiquitous advancements and their deviation from respective social media apps as a principle will, according to Mac, give rise to humanism rather than post-humanism by enhanced physical socialization. Embracing the language era as opposed to positioning oneself to prefer ‘natural humanity’ is a pragmatic approach in my view, as “human-technology symbionts” (Clark, 2004) rely on an interdependency with technology as an extension of the contingent evolution of humanity today.
The alleged values and outcomes of this fostered future of digital technology is integrated into the very design of the technology itself, which can undoubtedly possess unintended consequences that are difficult to predict. However, I would argue that its construction is shaped by societies desire for short form, emotion provoking stylized communication and engagement online (as is seen within social media interfaces) where an auspicious outlook can sufficiently account for an increasingly individualistic society. By retracting from an intergenerational perspective of incentivized technological culture with problematic implications supported by mediated moral panics, API technologies will be readily adopted by wider users with broader perspectives, rather than assuming it to be an instrument of capitalism. Fundamental to my argument, though, is that this future has already unfolded, despite concerns regarding user beneficiary outcomes, environmental implications or governmental regulation, alongside aforementioned social/cultural values regarding algorithms and surveillance. API technology creators possess overarching technological determinism in response to users’ apprehensions of the foreseen and unforeseen future, but in any case, unavoidable outcomes have the potential to rise as society adapts to its inevitable proliferation in the future.
As consumers increasingly trust their API technologies to predict their wants and needs, such as Alexa to shop for the user on their behalf, it is realistic to assume that these digital technologies will serve just as users now can efficiently trust Siri for their location and contact information or Google Assistant for informational needs. This calls for a transformative consumerism shift where brand focus relies on redirecting purpose from commodification to a strengthened consumer relationship. As API technologies have successfully operated within companies such as Crystal and Lemonade, I would argue that Mac’s prediction provides a persuasive vision of the future, where consumers seek different ‘bots’ for their individual needs as a “digital layer”, cultivated uniquely to their lives, whereby such developments transcend the notion of any predisposed ‘social hype’. Finally, I speculate that a newfound trust in technology may be reincarnated as a reformed social value, where the consumer’s intent is ceaselessly prioritized through bots and coinciding feedback loops, which is ultimately reliant on API technology meeting their prophecy of an increase of quality of life for users overall.
App Download and Usage Statistics (2019). (2020, September 07). Retrieved from https://www.businessofapps.com/data/app-statistics/
Erickson, M., & Clark, A. (2004). Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence. Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers Canadiens De Sociologie, 29(3), 471. doi:10.2307/3654679
How Crystal Works. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.crystalknows.com/how-crystal-works
Morozov, E. (2014). To save everything, click here: The folly of technological solutionism. New York: PublicAffairs.
Negroponte, N. (2000). Being digital. New York: Vintage Books.
The Lemonade Insurance API. (2017, October 17). Retrieved from https://www.lemonade.com/api