Genevieve Bell: How a Mechanical Duck Made Us Fear Technology Forever [VIDEO]

January 16, 2014

11:00 am

In 1739, the French inventor Jacques de Vaucanson introduced a mechanical duck to the world. Made of gold-plated copper and resembling a real duck in every aspect, the automaton did a lot of things that a living duck could do: it could drink, muddle water with its beak, quack, move its legs, chew and swallow food, digest it, and even excrete that food. It was a magical moment in the history of technology, but according to Genevieve Bell, it was also the precursor to the now-innate, human fear of new technology.

Bell is the director of Intel’s interaction and experience research group. For her and her team, understanding how and why people use and think about technology is essential for developing the kinds of chips and products most useful to humans. During her talk at Tech Cocktail Celebrate, Bell discussed how technology has seeped into our subconscious and affected our understanding of the world.

De Vaucanson’s mechanical duck is an important point of our history because it was the moment when we considered: what are the repercussions when mechanical objects mimic real things? Indeed, this fear has prevailed, with people exhibiting concerns with new developments in wearable technology (does this threaten our privacy? Where does the imaginary stop and the reality begin?).

But what of the initial magic we feel with new technology? That “aha!” moment we experienced when we first put our finger on a touch-screen? Or even simply turned on a light switch for the first time? How do we remove the fear and reintroduce this magic in our lives?

In a very compelling talk on the origins of our technological fear, Genevieve Bell discusses the death of magic (and how we can revive it) and our quest for wonder in technology. Watch it here.

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.

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