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Thimon de Jong: "People respond emotionally to technological innovation"

What will human behaviour look like in the future? And how can organisations prepare for this? Thimon de Jong, futurist and social psychologist, tackled these questions in his talk during TEDxAmsterdam, which took place at Schiphol at The Base. What was his experience?

How do you look back on the event?
'It was my first time at a TEDx event, yet it still felt very familiar. I was already a fan of the website and videos, so I knew what to expect and it certainly was no disappointment. The combination of speakers and entertainment, the inspiring talks, the enthusiastic crowd: it was too short, as far as I'm concerned. Especially the story of Cynthia from Ghana made an impression on me; she spoke about "female genital mutilation". Quite a few people in the audience had tears in their eyes after her talk, including me.'

You spoke about human behaviour in the future. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
'I spoke about how people respond to technological innovation. People think that they can consider this rationally, but decades of research have shown that the majority tend to respond mostly emotionally. I used a lift as an explanation. When this thing was introduced, people didn't dare to get in, although the technology worked fine. In order to get people on board, both literally and figuratively, adjustments needed to be made, such as introducing background music, mirrors to distract the occupants and an alarm button. And that did work. My talk was all about discovering what your personal "lift" equivalent is. What technology can you grasp rationally, but are you not ready for emotionally? Is it blockchain, or a pilotless aircraft that flies itself? Would you dare to board one?'

Do you have a good example of a 'lift' yourself?
'The example I gave was Emotion AI (Artificial Intelligence). This is a new type of technology where your face is filmed and special software detects how you feel. The camera analyses the micro-movements in your face, and is then able to indicate such things as whether you're honest or not.'

That does indeed sound scary.
'That's how the audience responded too. It comes across as a type of "Big Brother is watching you", yet at the same time it also has its advantages. Unilever uses Emotion AI across the world in virtual job interviews and has programmed the software so that recruitment is more diverse than it has ever been. The drawback of human recruitment is that people subconsciously tend to hire individuals who resemble them. This technology makes the recruitment more objective. It is also much quicker. When people hear that, they develop a more positive take on such technology.'

And finally, do you have any good tips for organisations involved with product innovations?
'Yes, get more sociologists and psychologists involved. Organisations find it very logical to hire IT specialists whenever major IT projects are concerned. But when emotions are concerned, they soon think that they can understand it all themselves.'


Thimon de Jong is a keynote speaker, leadership trainer and lecturer at Utrecht University. In 2014 he founded Whetston, a think tank on future human behaviour, social change and their impact on strategic decision-making.

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