Love Thy Computer? Not If it Means Saying Goodbye

The idea of people having emotional attachments to technology is not new. Robots in particular have often been the subject of fictional intimacy, from the original Blade Runner in 1982 through to Ex Machina in 2015. While this may seem a little far-fetched and the realm of Hollywood fantasy, researchers from Japan’s Toyohashi University of Technology and Kyoto University made an interesting discovery.

In a study, which looked at whether people would react as viscerally to images of a robot hand being cut with a knife, as they would to the same image of a human, the researchers found “common neural responses” that signified feelings of empathy. In short, humans have an innate ability to ‘feel’ for technology, especially when it has some form of human characteristic.

Teen learning with humanoid robot at school

Given the rise in chatbots and the proliferation of digital assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Apples’ Siri, this attachment idea could get really interesting. At the moment, these increasingly familiar voices are emanating from devices such as smartphones or blocks of plastic on desks and tables. But what if they start looking more human, a little like the US Navy’s firefighting robot Octavia? It raises a few questions, as MIT Technology Review suggested, about how we as humans not just react but work with technology in the future.

Dealing with death

This, of course is a big question and full of supposition. An anthropologist’s dream perhaps. But what about when that technology gets old and moves toward end of life? If humans are starting to have attachment issues, surely the same principles will apply when it comes to saying goodbye? Do we melt little Rover the robot dog down into molten steel or do we recycle and reuse him?

If the growth of technology continues at its current pace, the likelihood is that businesses and consumers will continue to want the latest technology and will upgrade every two or three years. As well as PCs, servers, storage and smartphones, add robots and digital assistants to the list. The drive for increased intelligence, real time analytics and always-on services will increase the need for smart, quick and robust machines. The pressure to upgrade will only increase.

Enterprises in particular, as they are today, will be caught in an on-going and often costly upgrade path, just to maintain parity with the competition. More machines and more devices, more unwanted hardware and a potential e-waste disaster. How will this whole process be managed and will it be respectful to the emotionally charged, the cost-conscious and the environment?

There are two sides to this. The first is infrastructure. Will anyone really have an emotional attachment to a server? Probably not. The second is front end communications. This is where robots are on the increase and there is potential for emotional attachment. As human interaction with machines is increasingly conducted through intelligent robots, potential issues could arise when it comes to decommissioning.

Of course, like today, if you tell people that their old electronics are worth some money, it may make saying goodbye that little bit easier. As they do today, ITAD companies will handle those machines respectfully, recycling where necessary and refurbishing where possible, to earn dollars for tearful owners.

Young couple using smartphone
Young couple in cafe sitting with smartphone in hands and cappuccino on the table

Building a new future

Time is a great healer, as Eva Cassidy once sang, but so is a shiny new gadget or an upgraded robot. And yet, not everyone will want to go down this route. Interestingly, we have already seen a stagnation in upgrades, especially if the upgrades are not sufficiently different. You only have to look back at the slowdown in phone upgrades to realize that people are wising up. Just because it has a new number or letter and a bigger screen size does not mean it justifies the expense.

As enterprise technology buyers today understand, upgrades are only purchased when it is necessary, such is the expense and disruption. Holding onto hardware longer may not be an option but more and more businesses will look to maximize value from IT assets. That could be using cheaper, refurbished machines, such as servers to handle some basic tasks and the latest servers to manage more intelligent and more demanding real-time services.

As technology evolves and robots become more ubiquitous, the make-up of IT assets will undoubtedly change but in many ways, the thinking and processes behind end of life hardware, will not. Whether businesses want to recycle or refurbish does not matter. How that hardware is handled does, and the ITAD industry has to evolve, to accommodate that change and ensure that the future, for what it’s worth, is bright and not emotionally charged.