FTP045: Amber Case on Calm Technology and Human-Machine Interactions

Amber Case

Today our guest is Amber Case, a researcher on human-tech interfaces at MIT and Harvard. Her areas of study include home automation, AI, self driving cars, IoT, social networks, cybersecurity and the ethics of all of those fields. Because of her fields of study, she sometimes refers to herself as a cyborg anthropologist.

Amber Case on Building Unintrusive Technology

While many tech futurists argue for humans merging with machines as a utopian vision of the future, Amber has a more critical point of view. She studies the ways in which human-machine interactions can be unproductive, unhealthy, or harmful.

She points out the ways in which the incentives of technology companies like Facebook is to hijack our attention, instead of providing a public utility.

Another side effect of an interconnected world Amber has studied is the notification fatigue. Being connected to the internet during all waking hours has set unrealistic expectations to be always available. Even more so, we are constantly overwhelmed by the number of notifications, which exhausts our willpower and decreases our focus.

Amber also talks about the ways we are trying to push our interactions with technology to be more human-like – for example, with “natural gestures”. This can often backfire and create less intuitive interactions comparing to unambiguous inputs, like the good old buttons.

The title of Amber’s book is Calm Technology, where she proposes that technology should integrate into our lives seamlessly and run quietly in the background rather than being in-your-face.

The reason the blockchain seems perfect is because it isn't used enough yet. Click To Tweet

In This Episode of Future Thinkers Podcast

  • How we design human-tech interfaces
  • “The Internet of Shit”
  • The internet culture of instant-response
  • We’re in a pubescent phase with how we use technology
  • Re-integrating community into our lives
  • The reason we have fake news
  • Advice for the notification-fatigued


“I don’t want to see technology making decisions for us, because that means the people who write the software are making decisions for us.” – Amber Case


“I think the fundamental issue behind all of this is that we now have companies that are larger than entire countries. It’s a threat for them to say “hey, use our services less, and we’ll help you.” – Amber Case

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1 Comment
  1. […] Future Thinker’s Podcast: Amber Case on Calm Technology and Human-Machine Interactions Very insightful talk with Amber Case, researcher on human-tech interfaces at MIT and Harvard. […]

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