Science and Tech

Technology, Mind, and Society

APA technology conference highlighted the indispensable role of psychological science in advancing technology.

On April 5-7, 2018, the American Psychological Association held a conference on Technology, Mind, and Society (PDF, 1.26MB) in Washington, D.C. The interdisciplinary meeting brought together more than 400 psychologists, computer scientists and engineers, among others, from 30 countries to report and assess current efforts to understand and shape the interactions of humans and technology.

Four keynote presenters offered examples of how psychology contributes to technological innovation and to understanding the impacts of technology on human life. Cynthia Breazeal, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), spoke about her work with social robots and their potential to enhance people’s quality of life. Eric Horvitz, of Microsoft Research, described his efforts to build virtual assistants and how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to work in tandem with humans. Justine Cassell, of Carnegie Mellon University, addressed the need to create AI systems that depend on and thrive from human interaction. And Alex “Sandy” Pentland, also from MIT, showed how very large data sets on human behavior at the community level can lead to new insights into the determinants of well-being and point to new forms of interventions and policy.

Keynote speaker Cynthia Breazeal, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Keynote speaker Cynthia Breazeal, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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The conference also featured more than 120 peer-reviewed symposia, papers and posters covering a broad range of topics, including child development, education, mental health, cybersecurity, gaming, virtual reality, robotics and public attitudes toward technology. For example, a symposium brought together four international research teams to present findings on how robots can be used to improve the quality of life for people with dementia by providing cognitive stimulation and home-assistant services.

Staff of the National Institute of Mental Health organized a symposium showcasing research on new mental healthcare technologies, including use of predictive analytics to determine suicide attempt likelihood, technology-based provider training for interventions for psychosis and schizophrenia, and user experience research to improve the efficacy of behavioral health software.

An invited panel discussed the state of the art in vehicle automation, focusing on questions that need to be answered about how people interact with technology and their environments before driverless cars can come into widespread use.

A common theme was that, for the forseeable future, AI will not so much replace humans as assist them, in ways that both compensate for human limitations and enhance human capacities. Conference attendees also discussed ethical and policy issues arising from new technologies, including threats to privacy. Concerns about diversity and inclusion — the need for technology to be useful and available to all people — were frequently discussed.

APA’s cooperating partners for the conference were the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Human Interaction, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. Startup companies that aim to integrate psychology and technology served as conference sponsors: Em Life, Neuroflow, Play Attention, Therachat and Virtual Sandtray.

Storify — See the conference through social media.

As befitting a technology conference, many attendees took to social media throughout the weekend to share ideas and broaden the discussion. Twitter was used heavily. The hashtag #APATech18 was among the most popular in Washington, D.C. over the weekend, garnering more than 12 million impressions.

Building on the success of this conference, APA intends to pursue further efforts to strengthen research and practice in technology, mind and society. If you have ideas for future events and projects that APA can undertake in this area, please contact the APA Science Directorate.