Just spoke with Cori Lathan, a robotics engineer and the founder of AnthroTronix, a biomedical firm “specializing in the development of advanced interface technology; product development for wearable computing and robotic control systems; and design, development, and testing of simulation tools for training applications.” In other words, she designs robots to meet human challenges, making her a top contender for having the coolest job in the world.
When you think of the fields in which empathy is particularly critical for success, chances are engineering isn’t the first one on your list. But Cori sees things differently: to her, empathy is the basis of human-centered design, and the emerging consensus that the best products are “human-centric,” rather than “machine-centric”. What’s more, she’s done this enough to know that mastering the science behind robotics engineering is only half the battle. When you look, for example, at the FIRST Robotics Competition—a popular competition for students in grades 9-12—the teams that are successful are not the ones with the highest combined IQ, but the ones who treat one another and their coaches with respect, and have mastered the ability to work together. But she’s spotted a third role for empathy in the profession: the best technology is the kind that produces empathy, facilitating connection between humans, and enabling them to accomplish more together than they could alone.
We hear similar things from Ashoka Fellow Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders-USA. If we really want to produce the next generation of top engineers, perhaps it’s time to add “empathy” to our current push for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) education. After all, STEME’s got a rather nice to ring to it.
Check out Cori’s awesome TEDx talk here.