Human Answers to Tech Questions? The Copenhagen Techfestival
The Copenhagen Techfestival is a refreshing addition to the worldwide line-up of events on technology and innovation. Situated in Central Europe in the cultural hub of Copenhagen, it invites its visitors to “a new conversation on humans and technology”. In its mission statement, the organizers say that they want to depart from the business-centered culture of Silicon Valley, from AI-fear, and from innovation hype in order to find “human answers” to technological progress. They also want to invite everyone to join this conversation, which is why the tickets are only 29 Euros. Technology is shaping the lives of everyone, so everyone should have the opportunity to shape technology.
This line of thought enticed over 16.000 people from all over the world to visit Copenhagen in 2017, when Techfestival took place for the first time ever. It also piqued my own interest, especially since the ideas of its community seem closely related to the design philosophy of Iconstorm. This is why, from September 5-9 I visited Denmark to participate in the second iteration of the event.
Getting people to think critically about why we use technology is one of the main quests of Techfestival. In the video, the organizers reflect on this notion.
We are often fascinated with all the things we can do. We often forget to stop and think why we are doing it and what will be the effect not just on our immediate lives, but also on the generations to come.
Maia Kahlke Lorentzen (Critical thinking. No hype. Techfestival.)
The Copenhagen Letter: A Call for Humanity-Centered Design
At the first Techfestival in 2017, 150 people met in a 48-hour session to formulate what is now known as The Copenhagen Letter on Tech. It is an open letter to everyone working in design today that challenges today’s “best practices” in the field. It calls for us to take responsibility and put humans before business.
While we don’t agree with that 100 percent (i.e. business is an integral part of spreading innovation) the five core ideas of the letter are relevant in a world in which it is hard to tell whether our societies are still governing tech – or are being governed by it.
- Amongst other things, the letter calls for technology that is more transparent and, thus, trustworthy, a topic that is the main focus of our World Usability Day Frankfurt this year.
- Closely related to that is the idea to open up the design process for people who lack knowledge or access to the field. The aspiration is to not only design for people, but also with them.
- And third there is the challenge to move from human-centered to humanity-centered design. In the letter, the authors took a moral approach to this phrasing; but taking into account how the human context may change due to new inventions is actually an important design question. (Felix recently talked about why that is on our blog. )
Personal Highlights: AI in Healthcare, Digital Well-being, and the Future of Food
With these ideas in mind it was very interesting to see how the festival would shape up. Of course, for events with programs featuring over 200 sessions and 300 speakers it is impossible to give a full overview. So I will concentrate briefly on my personal highlights (which, in all honesty, would all deserve a blog post of there own).
AI in Healthcare: Assisted Diagnose
During the first day, I attended two sessions surrounding a topic we talk about at the agency a lot: artificial intelligence. The sessions were hosted by people from the LEO Innovation Lab. They built an app that helps users track changes in skin conditions and responses to their treatment over time. User basically frequently take photos and compare them. (The app is called imagine and available for download, if you are interested.) Currently, the company is trying to find new use cases for the app in healthcare.
Apparently, the user journey of medical patients is very complicated in Denmark, and it takes many appointments to get to the right doctor. The idea is to simplify this journey via means of AI-driven analyses that might propose treatments or the right specialist for a given condition. While in one session, the company presented this topic in a keynote, the point of the second session was for us to come up with ideas of how such an application of the app might be possible. There are many open question concerning the project, like how will the technology work in concert with the doctors and patients, how can enough data be gathered in order to train it, and how can it be introduced into the heavily regulated field of medical technology. It is definitely a worthwile goal to pursue, since finding shortcuts with a decentralized solution could reduce the patient journey’s complexity and improve the lives of its users.
Designer Summit on Digital Well-being
Another interesting event was the day-long Designer Summit hosted by Google’s strategic design expert Phillip Battin. During this day, we discussed the implications that our consumption of digital media and technologies might have on our well-being. Today, many people mindlessly surf reddit or Facebook, they binge-watch TV shows, YouTube videos and Twitch streams – mostly without a deeper awareness of what they are actually doing.
This behavior is driven by design: modern technology is geared towards making everything as convenient as possible for the user, spoon feeding us the right content at the right time. Depression, addiction, as well as a lack of understanding about how these services we are interacting with work often are the consequence. During the summit we discussed possible solutions for curating content in a way that might raise the awareness of users interacting with it.
Will a more mindful interaction help remedy negative effects on mental health? And how might we design for convenience without producing negative side-effects? Especially the second question might be very important for the Future of UX design and is something we think about a lot.
How might we… cook in a world without natural power resources?
Another personal highlight of mine was the Design Jam hosted by the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID) and Cookpad. This four hour design sprint was a nice example of how to incite creative thinking by leading with the right questions. The session was all about how we might cook our food in the future; the attendants were grouped into teams and tasked to come up with solutions for hypothetical scenarios. To say the least, this session was very creative and took place at a frantic speed.
My group had to find an answer for the following question: How might we cook and eat our food in a world without light and natural power? We had less than four hours to come up with an idea, to create a prototype, to make a small film (which I edited on my phone!) about how the idea might work, and finally to present the results to the other participants. This was a fun exercise that showcased how we can come up with diverse ideas that help us adapt when the context of our lives changes.
Some final thoughts
I would say that the Copenhagen Techfestival is definitely worth a visit! The direction this new festival is taking, might be an important counterweight to the current innovation culture in tech. Making the human being the main focus of attention opens up a new perspective that is very important for designers, but honestly for everyone working with technology today.
It is really important for us to leave our personal thought bubbles often, to exchange ideas with people from different fields, and to look at old topics in a new way. An open, inquisitive attitude might help us tackle the challenge to act in a responsible way and achieve the humanity-centered design that the Copenhagen Letter calls for. In the end, I am glad I could visit Copenhagen this year, and I would recommend to anyone interested that they pay a visit to the Techfestival in 2019.