Will touchless technologies cause sensory deprivation?

How touchless technologies will cause sensory deprivation

Touchless technologies promote safety through social distancing.  However, such technologies do not satisfy human desire for interaction with people, places, and things.  As these technologies proliferate, will they cause sensory deprivation? 

Touchless technologies for access control

While channel surfing cable TV the other day, I hit a channel where an angry resident was railing against a proposal to allow face recognition technology at building entrances in New York City.  “I don’t want my building owner to know when I enter or leave the building,” argued one tenant. “I don’t want them to enter my apartment when I am not there or turn off lights when I am away,” said the other.  Clearly, face recognition technology was not acceptable to these tenants because of its perceived intrusion on their privacy. 

That was before the pandemic hit us.  The heyday of touchless society seemed far away.  But the pandemic changed that in a hurry. Today, face recognition is gaining acceptance as a safe and effective way to provide access control. While there are still concerns about invasion of privacy, it is becoming clear that cameras are everywhere.  They are at street corners and building entrances.  They are mounted on cars and police officers.  They are on smart phones carried by most people.  They are constantly recording people as they go about their daily lives.  These devices do not typically identify faces of people.  However, it only takes a software layer to convert raw footage into face recognition technology.  And the technology is improving rapidly to protect people’s privacy needs.

Smart locks for a keyless world

Our journey to keyless society began with remote car keys.  These handy devices offer convenience as well as public safety.  Smart locks in the form of card readers or number pads have been used in hotel rooms and offices for many years.  Such locks can be programmed or reprogrammed easily making them suitable for guest management and security.  Although most people do not realize it, these locks also record people’s arrival and departure for record keeping and public safety purposes. 

But now, smart locks have made their way into our homes.  You can find smart locks that operate with Wifi, Z wave technology, or Bluetooth connectivity.  A new company called Latch backed by Tishman Speyer recently raised 16 million dollars on Wall Street to manufacture sleek, high-tech devices (also called Latch) that will use touchless keys in lieu of traditional keys.  Latch is already installing these smart devices in new multifamily residential and commercial developments.

Home automation technologies

Home automation technologies use voice commands to control everything from TVs and microwave ovens to home appliances and building systems.  Popular systems such as Amazon’s Alexa, Samsung’s SmartThings, Google Assistant or Apple Home are gaining acceptance rapidly.  Such systems work great in the era of social distancing and remote work as they make all connected devices work smarter and better.  They can control lights, see who’s at the front door, open door locks remotely, adjust room temperature, turn up the music, and so much more. These touchless technologies will continue to reshape how we live, work, and play in the years ahead.

Touch starvation and sensory deprivation

Are we ready for a keyless touchless society?  Is physical human interaction a matter of history? Probably not yet.  “Human beings, by nature, crave human touch. ’Touch starvation’ isn’t a made-up, trendy term; it’s a real medical condition. Interacting with others, being able to physically touch products, feeding off the energy of other fans at a live event – these needs aren’t going away.” 1 The challenge for emerging touchless technologies is to balance the need for human touch with concerns for privacy and safety.


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