Will Advancement in Technology Save the World?MIT Professor, Founder of Affective Computing, and Entrepreneur Rosalind Picard gives her answer at The Veritas Forum at MIT, 2012
>> Rosalind Picard: What are the world's hardest problems,
and what is the promise of technology to solve them?
One of the biggest problems I work on
is inventing technology to try to help people
who live with autism.
I get a lot of email from parents of children on the autism spectrum
who hear about my group's work and write me for help.
I'm going to read a short excerpt from one.
Kind of reminded me, when I saw the subject line,
of the old "Dear Abby" column,
because the title in the subject was "Desperate Father"
>> "Desperate Father": Dear Professor,
My colleague told me about a new fascinating technology
he heard on BBC Radio 4 ...
I have an 8 year old son, who is diagnosed with ASS.
Unfortunately I only know the Dutch term,
but in English it must be something like Autism Spectrum Disorder.
In general he is normal, intelligent boy,
autism is the last thing that comes into mind when you see him.
But sometimes he starts disturbing the classroom
or responds too aggressive against other children.
It's his third year in school and he is already in his third school.
For the moment he is going to a special school
for children with learning disorders
but things still do not go as expected.
We are going from one test centre to another for 4 years now
and the pressure on our family is really hard.
So I asked my colleague the details of the radio program,
and he directed me to the recording.
When I listened to the recording, I had to pause it half way through
as I was getting too emotional.
I believe this technology can help us in important ways:
Knowing the moments of fear, anger, concentration,
would be very useful as my son does not always recognize
these feelings with him correctly.
For example, we discovered lately that when he is hungry
he becomes aggressive without knowing he is hungry.
>> Rosalind Picard: Here I'll move ahead - the father goes on
to describe how he went to our web pages
where we had open sourced and put out descriptions
for our technology
hoping people could use it for free, and he says:
>> "Desperate Father": I can imagine that you receive
many similar requests from parents for help
and that you cannot respond to all of them.
I found a lot of information on the FAQ pages,
but although I have some experience with electronics
I do not see it feasible to build this device from scratch.
>> Rosalind Picard: Parts were changing, all this other stuff…
>> "Desperate Father": Is there any way for me
to cooperate in a test program
or is there anything similar, commercially available?
We would really appreciate your help,
again my son is an intelligent child, and this could be decisive
for his school career,
who knows what contribution he can make back
towards science in the future?
Signed, Desperate Father
>> Rosalind Picard: The technology we invented at MIT
reads some of the emotional information this boy needs help with;
and it has now become commercially available
I'm wearing one version of it tonight,
the Q sensor made by Affectiva.
Full disclosure: I'm co-founder, chief scientist,
chairman of the board. [laughter]
This technology is starting - and they're for sale!
I'm supposed to…
but we're not selling them here! [laughter]
That's not the topic tonight! Ok...
This technology, however, is starting to make a difference
in people's lives. Today it's also enabling scientists and clinicians
to do new research:
in epilepsy to detect seizures and the intensity of the seizure.
in PTSD, in helping desensitize people with phobias,
in helping people better understand anxiety disorders
and even in some new studies, looking at what precedes cravings
and the stress that may overcome people when they're struggling
through treatment with drug addiction.
Years ago, here in Kresge actually, we used a predecessor
of this technology to measure audience responses.
Instead of seeing these blinding lights and black behind them
I saw the audience light up with the brightness of the LED
when one of the main signals that we're measuring went up.
It went up every time there was a live demonstration.
And the audience glowed.
And every time there was live interaction, a live Q&A session,
the audience glowed.
It went up with each new speaker, and it went up with laughter.
However, unfortunately, we also learned that
with every PowerPoint presentation…
[laughter] it went down… with a decaying exponential.
This technology has great uses, whether for entertainment,
for medical, lots of uses...
but it does not save the world.
What if it were so good that it could completely eradicate
a condition such as autism?
It cannot do that, but if we could
invent a technology to wipe out a serious condition,
would we want to do that?
One of the things I have learned
from people on the autism spectrum
is that we have to be very careful, and humble,
when we think we know what is best,
especially when it involves another human life.
We often fall short in our knowledge of what is best.
For example, as I've gotten to know many people with autism
I have learned that many of them don't want to be cured of autism.
Many of them who cannot even speak, have typed:
"I don't want a cure: I just want tools that help me
to adapt to my world and learn from it.
I may have more trouble with it, but I still just want help.
I don't want you to get rid of me."
They don't want a new genetic test, new technology
that makes them detected before birth and likely to be aborted.
That doesn't save anyone.
It certainly doesn't help save the world.
I'm hard-pressed, and I challenge you:
Can you think of any technology that has never caused
at least some serious problems,
even if overall, one might argue, it has made the world better?
I love my Macbook, but sometimes it malfunctions,
and it's probably going to end up in a landfill someday.
Wireless mobile technologies are bringing better health
and learning to our brothers and sisters
in very poor and rural communities;
but they are also allowing terrorists to make a phone call
and detonate a bomb.
I think vaccines make our world better,
but they have also inadvertently killed people.
Technology does not ultimately save our lives,
even if it lengthens our lives. We are all going to die.
I'd love to invent a technology that provides world peace.
There's a big problem!
But what if technology could prevent evil people
from seeking power and domination over others?
Now, my team here builds technology
that detects and analyzes emotion.
Maybe we could help people regulate emotion.
Maybe we could rid the world of war-prompting emotions like anger?
But once again, we have to question that we have
For example, what we think of as bad emotions are not all bad.
I don't know how many of you were here at commencement
years ago, when Lee Iaccoca spoke at MIT graduation.
It was a really gorgeous sunny day:
the grass was green, the sky was blue;
the students were so happy to finally be graduating;
the parents were so happy to finally not have to pay bills [laughter]
the flowers were blooming, and Lee Iaccoca got up at the podium
and he banged his fist on it - I can't do it as loud as he did it;
maybe he had the microphone on the podium -
and he said “You must get angry!”
“You must get angry!”
And he told all the graduates, "You must get angry!"
And they're kinda looking at each other, like,
“Who hired this guy to wreck our day?” [laughter]
But why was he saying this?
Because Anger is not all bad.
What we think of sometimes as bad with our imperfect knowledge
can be good.
Anger is a great motivator: it prompts you to stop putting up with
a lot of the garbage out there and make something that is better.
A technology that got rid of anger
would also get rid of much of the good changes in our world.
It would not save the world.
What are sources of hope beyond technology?
What does it mean to save the world, really?
I mean, more specific: What does it mean to save one person,
you or me?
Here at MIT we look to knowledge and great achievements
to save oneself, to make a better world.
But is that enough? I don't think it is.
There was a time when Germany had many of the finest scientists,
technologists, doctors, well-educated scholars in the world.
Even social convenant and contract, a very civilized society.
They had brilliant achievements,
and yet this well-educated, successful populace came to believe
that a man, their leader, could save their nation
by getting rid of what he convinced them was bad
and promoting what he convinced them was good.
This man did not submit to any greater authority.
He scoffed at the idea that he should submit to God.
Der Führer was the ultimate authority,
and he required not only the armed forces to swear allegiance to him
but also German pastors to swear allegiance to him.
You know his name: Adolf Hitler.
Putting oneself on the ultimate throne of authority,
and claiming to know how to save a nation
is not a one-time tragedy.
We've seen it repeatedly: Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot,
just a few of the names that have illustrated what happens
when somebody thought they knew what was best.
And these individuals used technology to murder millions of -
hundreds of millions of innocent people.
Evidence shows repeatedly that when we try to save ourselves
by being great,
We can never be as good as we think we could be.
We all fall short, myself included.
Like most students who come to MIT, I had straight A's,
#1 in high school, #2 Georgia Tech. 5.0 Ph.D Course Six, MIT
Some of the best friends a person could ask for,
dated the cutest guys on the football team, high school.
I am blessed with loving parents.
On the faculty at MIT I made it from the bottom
all the way through tenure and to promotion as Full Professor.
I have a husband who is also an MIT course six alum –
we met in the computer room on a Friday night! [laughter]
You might want to go to one after this event.
He is amazing, married to me for 23 years
and deserving of great respect and admiration.
We have 3 loving sons who are truly the best boys on the planet.
(I'm not biased!)
In research, you know, I've received thousands of citations;
hundreds of keynote invitations,
gratified to know my work has helped other people.
I feel enormously blessed by all of this, and it brings me great joy.
But you know what?
All of this - this worldly success - it pales completely in comparison
to the greatest thing in my life:
knowing and being known by the One who made it all,
the One from Whom every good thing comes;
the one Who knows what the world truly needs to be saved,
the one who knows and loves every single person on our planet,
you and me included,
whether or not we behave in a lovable way,
whether we respond with love love in return
or whether we spit in return.
None of my achievements, none of the generous gifts I've been given,
even begin to compare with experiencing the abundant peace,
mercy, grace, joy, healing, strength, and more,
when we but open our hands to receive these gifts.
That Gift Giver, I believe, is the greatest hope and saving influence
Don't get me wrong - I still fall short.
But my life is so much improved, so much more abundant,
filled with peace, for having taken myself off the throne of thinking
what is best, that I could know and make those perfect decision.
You could experience this too,
but you would have to be willing to put the One in charge of your life
who knows how to run it better than you do.
To conclude, I want to build great technology to help our world,
and I want to give of whatever I have to help people in need –
whether they have autism, epilepsy, a lack of ability to speak,
or some other challenge that we might invent new technology to help.
I delight in this work.
But an even greater delight, the deepest I have ever experienced,
is in knowing and being known by the ultimate source of all knowledge,
power, mercy, strength, and goodness:
This is the knowledge of the One who loves
every person on the planet,
the One Who truly saves the world.