The role of technology and empathy in creating a sustainable world

At the Design Indaba 2017 festival my highlights were Joe Gebbia and Luis von Ahn. Their talks challenged two assumptions that I hold. Listening to them speak made me realise that I’m not as optimistic as I should be.

Assumption 1: We’re becoming more racist

Brexit and Donald Trump are indications that the West is becoming more inward looking and racist. But Joe Gebbia talked about Airbnb’s Disaster Response and Relief program. It gives me hope that things are not that simple. There are people who care. In my work as a UX designer what has changed me most is talking to people, listening to their stories, it is easy to forget that we all share the same hopes and dreams for ourselves and our families, regardless of race or culture. If we learn to cultivate empathy the future may be less troublesome than we’re assuming.

Assumption 2: Languages are going extinct

Luis von Ahn told the story of DuoLingo. People learn languages for economic reasons, but that is not the only reason. There is interest in smaller languages, like Irish, DuoLingo gives those languages a chance to grow. The platform will be launching Swahili and Zulu in the near future. It may be that nature abhors homogeneity and the future may sound more diverse than what we are assuming.


It is all too easy finding evidence to support a pessimistic view of the future. I don’t want to be that person. There are bright spots and we need to keep them in view. Solving the problems we currently face cannot be done without technology. But we need to help technology understand it’s role in creating a sustainable world. This is what Airbnb and DuoLingo are doing by using technology to serve the needs of people. It is time that other industries start to follow.