One of the notable things about the recent assassination of Osama bin Laden was that President Obama, we are told, watched the event live via a webcam attached to one of the soldiers carrying out the mission. My immediate thought was that this surely was a ‘good thing’. Here was a situation of a senior leader watching the outcome of his decision play out in real time. Because I want to believe that human beings are naturally sympathetic to others, then seeing the outcome – in this case the deaths of a number of people – occurring because you made an administrative decision, must make the signing of such papers a weightier issue than simply hearing a report of deaths second-hand, via a briefing.
I wonder: How much more care would we take if we could have direct personal access to the outcomes of the decisions we make? Or would we be de-sensitized over time? Would I eat less meat if I had to watch a video of the killing of the animal from which the meat has been taken every time I bought a steak? Our ancestors ate less meat than us because it was scarce, not because they were put-off by the killing- hunting is a sport. It’s the influence of education and culture, nurturing and supporting our proclivity for empathy that increases our sense of responsibility for our actions; our capacity for empathy can be overwritten/overridden: for example by exhorting the priority of ‘the business case’ over ‘sentiment’, when sentiment might produce a more responsible and just outcome.
So I wonder: What are the best technologies to support an explicit education for empathy – what would empathy computing be/do to bring us closer to the impact of our decisions and actions and amplify our capacity for empathy at the same time?