Experiments for the Future

New Principles for the Communication Between People and Autonomous Systems

Client:

Volkswagen Future Center

Location:

Europe

Date:

2017

Experiments for the Future is a series of speculative design experiments developed for the Volkswagen Group Future Center Europe to find innovative ways and methods for imagining the future between humans and machines.

A first practical application of these is the Empathic Futures app experiment, in which 500 participants talked to their personal, mobility-related Empathic Intelligence for 5 days.

Project Phases:

Strategy | Concept | Design | Execution

Role:

Research | Digital Strategy Consulting | Content Development | Art Direction | Interaction and UX Design | App Development | Event Coordination | Operation

What does the future of human-machine relationships look like?

How will we communicate with and develop trust in autonomous systems?

To find out answers to these questions beyond theoretical speculation and traditional user surveys, FELD developed an exciting new method for applied user research: an app experiment that confronts people with a hypothetical future scenario in which they are able to chat with a system that is both cognitively and emotionally intelligent – an Empathic Intelligence (E.I.).

 

The aim was to inspire the participants’ imagination about future forms and functions of human-machine interaction.

Through text conversations, the E.I.s accompanied 500 participants from all over Europe through their every-day life. To test new principles of human-machine interaction, the 5 days of the experiment followed specific topics of conversation and included different forms of communication like images and emojis.

 

Game elements, e.g. challenges and point systems, as well as humor and humanlike behavior served as incentives and triggered unusual and surprising responses impossible to acquire by a questionnaire or traditional survey.

“I found the experience altogether consuming. It was an opportunity to look into a future when human beings might interact in a natural and ongoing way with machines.” 

 

Minter Dial, participant and digital strategy consultant

The Empathic Futures experiment anticipates the intelligent machines of the future: able to read between the lines, to mirror emotions and to answer complex questions. Since technology in this area is still lagging behind, the machine-like conversational counterparts were embodied by human operators – thus creating the possibility to stage a future scenario in the here and now.

Accompanied by the publication of a comprehensive research report, the results of the experiment were presented in the Empathic Futures exhibition, where the general public had the opportunity to give their opinion on the principles of human-machine communication developed through the experiment.