Our societies have experienced major technological advances during the 20th century.
There are only about 60 years between the invention of the airplane and the first step on the moon. The invention of vaccines has led to the eradication of more and more diseases. Telephones have gone from bricks hanging on walls to handheld computers capable of doing almost anything.
In retrospect, it seems as if technologies were making leaps every ten years and changing the world as a whole.
Yet there is a feeling of stagnation when looking back at the 2010 decade. Many new technologies were promised: autonomous vehicles, virtual reality, hypersonic trains.
10 years later, none of these inventions have impacted our lives and most are still in the development phase.
There are technological breakthroughs every day or so. Just look at the evolution of the famous Boston Dynamics robots that have gone from wobbly cans to robotic athletes capable of somersaults in 10 years.
But these breakthroughs are intended for the industrial or military world, not for the civilian world. The last real breakthrough we experienced as a society was the invention of smartphones in 2008.
One factor to explain this feeling of stagnation in the evolution of technology in our daily lives is the human factor.
The 2010s were a decade of research. Inventions are being developed and we will see real applications in several years.
The changes we have experienced are less straightforward, they are disruptions in innovation and service.
By using consumer technologies, companies are innovating and reinventing services that we have already had the ability to create for several years.
Online shopping has existed since the invention of the Internet, but it is a service that became popular during the Covid crisis. Now almost all brands offer a delivery service.
In the 2000s, all the experts said that physical stores would disappear and that all our purchases would be made online. Then all the experts said that physical stores would continue to exist but that cashiers would disappear in favor of automatic checkouts.
In both cases the so-called experts were wrong. They did not take into account the human factor.
It is not because we have the possibility to do something with a technology, in this case the Internet, that we will do it. The human factor of stores is the pleasure of going out, the pleasure of touching objects, of seeing people and being able to exchange a few words with a real person.
It took a global pandemic to take away this desire for interaction with other humans and to make people massively adopt the online shopping service that has existed for decades.
Innovations and new technologies can only impact our societies if they take into account the human factor as a whole.
If you create a technology for humans, it is normal to make sure that it is liked and accepted.
This human factor is the reason why the technologies that have been promised to us for ten years are slow to arrive.
The technology to make autonomous vehicles has been around since the 1990s. A Korean professor, Pr Han Min-Hong, tested his autonomous car prototype on Seoul’s highway and was so confident in his invention that he conducted his test from the back seat of the car.
So it’s been 40 years since we might not have to drive anymore. But technology has not taken into account the human aspect: the pleasure of driving, the pride of owning a car, the confidence one has in this technology, the anxiety of not having control over a vehicle that is so free to move. To these human factors of the users we must add the human societal aspect, that is to say all the lobbying against the technology that would risk bringing too violent changes in the automotive industry and could destroy jobs.
Manufacturers have understood that they should work on the human factor before launching their products.
We can’t launch 100% autonomous vehicles if consumers don’t trust them, we can’t generalize virtual reality if it gives nausea and the devices are less practical than a keyboard-mouse-screen set.
Technologies evolve at a crazy speed, it is even more the case today. Industrial and military technologies are developing without us realizing it. But technologies for the general public must work on the human aspect of their products. This human aspect includes acceptability, design, ergonomics and societal impact. It is quite possible that in the future, social scientists will be more and more solicited and new professions will emerge, as psychologists gave birth to Ux design at the dawn of the 2000s.