Does digital technology have as much potential to harm as to heal?

Short of having a sassy robot maid like The Jetsons’ Rosie, the one void that technology hasn’t yet filled in my life is the boring chore of making my morning coffee. Now, after years of waiting, the Wi-Fi Coffee Machine by Smarter has arrived.

The Wi-Fi Coffee Machine by Smarter uses a smartphone app to grind and brew a fresh cup of coffee to my specific taste. So while I’m in bed I can choose the strength and amount of coffee at the touch of a button. An alarm is sent to my phone when it’s ready.

wi-fi coffee machine by Smarter

Wi-fi coffee machine by Smarter

 

If I wake up at the same time every day I can have the coffee maker replace my alarm by announcing my coffee is ready. Smarter Founder Christian Lane says “We want to create the perfect morning experience. When you get up in the morning there’s a fine line between a good day and a bad day, which starts when you wake up.”

So far, so great, I thought. But then I began to think about what having my dream come true might really mean.

Digital health pundits are already calling 2015 the year of convergence and interconnectedness. At first glance, this looks like we’re standing on the frontier of a wonderful brave new world because the starting point is, or seems to be, making our lives easier. Which, as my dream coffee maker proves, is incredibly seductive.

But, we need to stop and consider what this might really mean for us. Does technology have just as much potential to harm as it does to heal? Let’s take the Smarter coffee machine. What if I’m an insomniac and the machine decides I need a strong cup of coffee to start my day full of beans (sorry)? This isn’t going to do my health any good.

Of course, the counterargument is that technology shouldn’t make my decisions for me. But, when technology is selling itself on the basis of convenience and being smart, trust is inevitably part of the equation. And yes, the problem is that many of us are naively ready to trust the machines. For example, Gale Lucas and others in the Journal of Computers in Human Behavior showed that individuals are more willing to disclose their thoughts and information to a computer avatar or virtual doctor than to a real one.

Individuals are more willing to disclose their thoughts and information to a computer avatar or virtual doctor than to a real one.

Exploring the implications of what digital health might really mean for us is what Humans for Digital Health is all about. We all know an incredibly exciting revolution is happening. Now, more than ever before, it’s time ask ourselves where we fit in. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.

 

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