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Spring/Summer 2017: update from the SRT Policy Officer

image Published: May 30, 2017

We live in a world where we seem to interact more and more with machines; whether that is through our mobile phones, our fitness trackers or our (increasingly automated) cars. The ways in which we interact with machines is not only increasing- it is also evolving. Many of us are old enough to remember when we instructed computers using punch cards; I am typing this on a standard keyboard, but when I browse the net I use a different form of interaction with a machine, pointing and clicking on links or icons- often using swiping and touch screens.

Even that is becoming outmoded, though- our 10 year old son recently acquired a device which connects to the internet by voice activation (be warned- when you ask Alexa to tell you a joke, it is usually a very corny one you get in response- and the only song our Alexa seems to be able to sing when requested to do so is a poor rendition of “Auld Lang Syne”!). Soon keyboards and touchscreens may become as obsolete as punch cards, as we move towards other ways of interacting with machines- via gestures, emotions- and perhaps, in the future, directly by thought.

Interacting with machines can often be used to augment and facilitate our communicating with other people; we have all experienced the benefits that this brings. As people of faith, Christians affirm the importance of being part of community and society. At the recent meeting of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, commissioners were invited to consider, among many other things, the Speak Out programme of the Church and Society Council (see http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/speak_out). The SRT will be leading on developing the Health and Wellbeing section of this programme- although we anticipate that we will also have involvement in other aspects of Speak Out.

An important part of community involves caring for each other; when Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan, he described how the despised Samaritan not only made use of the available medical and transport technology of the day (bandages, oil and wine for the assaulted mans wounds; a donkey to transport him to the inn), but he also “…. took care of him” (Luke 10:34).

The use of technology in healthcare, as in other areas of life, is increasing exponentially; again, this often brings great benefit to many of us. However, one of the concerns in deploying technology is that this can distance us from each other- meaning that we potentially lose sight of the “care” aspect of “healthcare”, and that society and community becomes more fragmented. Part of what the SRT seeks to do is to ensure that everyone in our society is cared for, and that technologies are not deployed in ways which disadvange or exclude, but rather to help us all connect more effectively, and to understand our humanity more deeply.

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