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How will humans interact with technology in the near future? How will new, flexible, washable materials be used to support us in controlling our environment? How can we include people currently left out of the digital society?

Exciting and difficult questions such as these propel Prof. Dr. Gesche Joost and her PhD students forward on their quest to prototype future interactions between people and computers. Ms. Joost is not only head of the Design Research Lab at the University of the Arts in Berlin, she is also Germany’s Champion for the EU’s Digital Agenda and a member of SAP’s Supervisory Board.

At the 4th  SAP Design Talk, Professor Joost addressed an audience of well over 1000 employees at SAP’s headquarters in Walldorf, Germany.

50 billion connected devices by 2020

Ms. Joost quoted a prediction from Cisco that by 2020, 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet. She said this will result in an enormous network of human and machines sending information and requests to each other.

Going way beyond small benefits like coffee makers that autonomously reorder their own java beans, she introduced the example of smart cities, which, through the Internet of Things (IoT), are able to dramatically reduce traffic congestion and lower energy consumption. There are also potential big benefits in agriculture – sensors mounted on tractors are able to assess the health of each and every plant, automatically adjusting water and pesticide levels or replacing the plant altogether if needed. These are just a few of the many benefits that technology and the IoT are already proving in pilot projects around the world.

Democratization of tools

Gesche Joost is also a big fan of the maker movement. As the price of microprocessors, sensors, and do-it-yourself gadgets have plunged, the barriers to access have also fallen. Combine this with open source communities, and prototyping becomes accessible to practically anyone interested in bringing their high tech design ideas to life.

Tired of listening to music through those hard little earbuds? Why not knit a speaker with a simple copper coil and a magnet into a scarf?

Prototyping is not only fun, it can also help close the digital divide between marginalized groups of people and our networked society. Just watch this impressive and moving example to see how:

Actively designing better user experiences is within our reach. So let’s start today to prototype a better future.

This article originally appeared on the SAP User Experience Community, a public community dedicated to the exchange of ideas and knowledge about design and user experience.

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