Editor’s note: Startland News is exploring a few of the most impactful quotes from speakers at Friday’s TEDxKC event at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
“The blind cannot only lead the blind, but lead any of us who can see to experiences that we’ve never seen before.”
— Shantanu Bala
Think about the technology you interact with on a day-to-day basis, Somatic Labs founder Shantanu Bala encouraged the TEDxKC audience.
“You’re probably looking at a screen, whether that’s a laptop, a smartphone or a tablet. You’re checking emails, notifications, messages or alerts,” he said. “A lot of this information is presented in a context that is inaccessible to someone who’s blind.”
Although modern technology users have access to a new era of voice-controlled interfaces, like Alexa, Siri and the Google Assistant, such artificial intelligences that respond to speech also add another channel of disruption and intrusion, Bala said.
Communication involves a lot more than just words, he said.
“Even if you’re not bilingual, you all understand a second language. You understand the meaning of a handshake or a warm hug. You understand to pull your hand away from a hot stove,” Bala said. “And you understand this faster than you can read words printed on a page or even hear them spoken out loud.”
For any of the 285 million people in the world who are blind, a task as ordinary as checking the time can involve asking another person or turning up the volume on a phone and having it yell out that information, he explained.
“This is a cumbersome experience and it’s an accessibility problem, but I would also question the necessity of occupying anyone’s eyes or ears when we can intuitively understand things that we grasp with our hands,” Bala said.
Imagine if you treated your entire body as a programmable computer, he challenged the crowd.
Bala’s Somatic Labs offers software and hardware products that aim to enable a future of wearable devices that communicate through human feeling and touch.
“I’ve spent past eight years working on systems of silent and invisible communication because I believe the same computer interface that could help someone who’s blind to check the time without needing a pair of headphones, is the same interface that could power the future of human-computer interaction,” he said.