S3 Ep 069 Sundar Raman Wants You To Consider a 50-Year Future of Kindness

In this episode, Sundar talks about technology's impact on human interactions and the importance of promoting augmented kindness in the digital age.
S3 Ep 069 Sundar Raman


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Show Notes

In this episode, we’re honored to introduce our guest, Sundar Raman, a visionary Creative Engineer who has been at the forefront of innovative technology for years. Currently serving as the Director of Technology at the awe-inspiring Museum of the Future in Dubai, he brings a wealth of experience and a diverse background that truly sets him apart. 

Sundar’s journey spans across a multitude of fields, from alternative energy to community radio, permaculture to open-source advocacy, and beyond. He’s been a driving force behind wired and mobile Internet telephony, social gaming, and interactive experience design. He firmly believes that technology should be more than just functional; it should be a canvas for artistry and a facilitator of unforgettable user experiences.

What truly makes Sundar’s perspective stand out is his belief that technology should be easy, fun, and approachable for everyone. In an age where the digital world can sometimes feel overwhelming, Sundar’s commitment to making technology a tool for empowerment shines through. Whether you’re a tech enthusiast, a curious learner, or simply someone seeking a healthier relationship with technology, this podcast promises insights that will resonate with you.

In this episode, you will hear: 

  • Learning the story around the museum pieces. 
  • What is driving the change between today and the future, specifically 2071? 
  • The future is not for us to await, but to create. It is a journey, not a destination. 
  • Making a “real job” out of a “not-a-real-job” dream. 
  • Experience design, augmented kindness, and putting the fun back in functional. 
  • Kindness and decorum to all on our environment. 
  • Creating a culture of hospitality and empathy. 
  • Overriding the bad things of life by practicing random acts of kindness.  

Sundar Raman is a Creative Engineer. He is currently the Director of Technology at the Museum of the Future in Dubai. Sundar’s background spans alternative energy, community radio, permaculture, wired and mobile Internet telephony, open-source advocacy, social gaming, and interactive experience design. Sundar believes that technology is a facilitator for art and user experience and that technology should be easy, fun, and approachable for everyone.

Connect with Sundar Raman:

Website: https://museumofthefuture.ae/enLinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cybertoast/

Connect with R Blank and Stephanie Warner: For more Healthier Tech Podcast episodes and to download our Healthier Tech Quick Start Guide, visit https://www.healthiertech.co and follow https://instagram.com/healthiertech

Additional Links:


Sundar Raman 0:00
The average person really wants to kind of understand where the story is coming from and put themselves in the context of another. And I think for us, this idea of the museum of the future is we have always had stories of the future. And it’s not a museum of technology. It’s not a museum have shiny objects. So it’s not a museum of, you know, what the next cell phone or car is, although we have representations of those, it’s more than Museum of human inspiration and human aspiration. So in a way, we’re just, you know, a storytelling place where we can go, Okay, where are we going as humanity?

Announcer 0:37
Welcome to the healthier tech podcast, the show about building a healthier relationship with modern technology. Now, here are your hosts, R blank, and Stephanie Warner.

R Blank 0:50
Stefani, imagine a museum of the future, what would that what would that be like?

Stephanie Warner 0:56
Well, I couldn’t tell you. I mean, I, to be honest with you, I don’t know I don’t think about things and that, you know, so forward. So I don’t know. And I don’t know if our listeners have any sort of picture of what that might look like. But our next guest is going to give us some really great information about what the museum of the future might be.

R Blank 1:16
Yeah, Sundar is the Director of Technology at the Museum of the Future, which I had never heard of. But now I am completely fixated on we talk about the museum. And then we get into some of cinders deeper thoughts about design of technology and what it means for humanity. So I can’t wait for the listeners to hear this.

Stephanie Warner 1:36
Yeah, and augmented kindness, we need to there’s a really amazing conversation about kindness as a whole, and we all need some more kindness, so I can’t wait for everyone to hear it.

R Blank 1:45
Let’s get into it. Alright, let’s do it. In this episode, we’re honoured to introduce our guests. Sundar Raman, a visionary creative engineer who has been at the forefront of innovative technology for years. Currently serving as the Director of Technology at the awe inspiring museum of the future in Dubai. He brings a wealth of experience and a diverse background that truly sets him apart. Since his journey spans across a multitude of fields from alternative energy to community radio, permaculture to open source advocacy, and beyond. He has been a driving force behind wired and mobile internet telephony, social gaming, and interactive experience design. He firmly believes that technology should be more than just functional. It should be a canvas for artistry, and a facilitator of unforgettable user experiences. what truly makes sunders perspective stand out is his belief that technology should be easy, fun and approachable for everyone. In an age where the digital world can sometimes feel overwhelming, cinders commitment to making technology a tool for empowerment shines through. Whether you’re a tech enthusiast a curious learner, or simply someone seeking a healthier relationship with technology, this podcast promises insights that will resonate with you. Welcome to the healthier tech podcast. Sundar,

Sundar Raman 3:05
thank you so much. Our thanks, definitely.

Stephanie Warner 3:08
Yeah, it’s great to have you. I’m really looking forward to this. I was looking at your website. I’m like, Whoa. I can’t wait for everyone to hear about it. Yeah. So

R Blank 3:16
we’ll get yeah, let’s get right into that. So the website we’re looking at is is for a project called the museum of the future. Now, every museum I’ve ever been to has, because I was thinking about this while we were preparing for this episode has literally been about the past. So what is the museum of the future? And how do you go about creating a museum? That’s that that’s that’s focused and dedicated to times that have not yet happened?

Sundar Raman 3:46
Well, the way that I like to answer that question, because I get asked this question reasonably often, because I think the I don’t know if it’s a misconception, but there’s a conception in the world that museums represent the old and artefacts. And one sort of metaphor that came to mind is that when you go to a museum, let’s say, I don’t know, the Museum of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, or the Victorian Albert Museum in London, or whatever, whatever major museum, you don’t go there to look at a rock, you go there to look at something that has a story around the rock, and that rock is usually a sculpture. It’s an edifice from a temple. It’s some cornice piece or like some column or something like that, you know, there’s always a kind of story around what the artefact is. And in a way, it’s a way of transporting the person from the current context that they’re in into the context of wherever this narration is coming from. You know, oftentimes we get lost in you know, what is the originality of the of the artefact or what is the provenance of the artefact and for the most part, I think the average person and I don’t mean experts in their field, because I’m absolutely gonna get lambasted for saying stuff like this. But the average person really wants to kind of understand where the story is coming from, and put themselves in the context of another. And I think for us, this idea of the museum of the future is we have always had stories of the future. And it’s not a museum of technology. It’s not a museum of shiny objects. It’s not a museum of, you know, what the next cell phone or car is, although we have representations of those, it’s more than Museum of human inspiration and human aspiration. So in a way, we’re just, you know, a storytelling place where we can go, Okay, where are we going as humanity?

R Blank 5:45
That’s interesting. And you say, it’s not a museum of technology. And we’ll get into your role as director of technology. But I have this this this kind of overarching question, as I was thinking about planning for this episode, when when you’re looking at the differences between the future? And today? Where do those differences actually come from? Is it is all of it attributable to technology? Or are there other forces that are key to driving the change between where we are now and where we are in in 2071? And we’ll get to that year in a minute. But what are the differences between today and and in the future?

Sundar Raman 6:27
I think we can take that in any direction, right? Like a thought experiment. That’s fun for me, that I needed to keep in mind as I was working through the project towards opening was, if I could transport myself back 50 years in the mythical time machine that we’ve always wanted, and not just bet on stock and make a boatload of cash. If somebody asked me 50 years ago, what is the future going to be like? You know, I think we have a tendency to think in terms of technology, because our narratives about future are very much tech centric, because of the Industrial Revolution, whatever else. But fundamentally, the thing that has happened is our capacity to communicate, you know, and I think that is going to keep increasing. In a weird way, some things have become more restrictive in terms of human inter interaction or interconnection. But I think that’s like when I think about where we are today, versus where we will be 50 years from now, or where I was 50 years ago, versus where I am today, much of what the world has facilitated is the capacity to kind of do things together. Technology obviously, makes that possible. I mean, writing and paper made that possible for a previous generation, right? Before that, they had to like figure out how we’re going to transport a voice that we have here to sell, you know, another another locale that will never come back from, you know, how do we keep these memories alive? We did that through song and communities and stuff like that. And then we got writing, and we’re like, Oh, my God, this is an amazing technology that had like, lasted for a very, very long time. But then we take it to the next level of how do we capture certain things. So we’ve been able to capture writing for a very long time, we’ve been able to capture sound for a very short time, maybe we can capture things like smell and taste and you know, other kinds of emotions, which we haven’t figured out the technology to save those in a way that they can be transported for a long time. And then like have conversations about them. You know, I think that’s where, like each if we talk about evolution, this is kind of where we’re heading towards. And I’ll add one more thing, which is like, so the person who I think inspired me to come onto the show with your one of your guests.

R Blank 8:40
Daniel Bell, Episode 55. Yeah,

Sundar Raman 8:43
from Episode 55. And music, not impossible, but he had been, he has been working on this amazing thing that the haptic interfaces, in for a long time, we didn’t know how to transpose the haptic into something that was memorable and conveyable to another group of people, right? Like, we didn’t know how to like, capture texture. And that’s kind of what he is doing. He’s capturing texture and transposing it in a particular context. But there’s no reason why that can’t happen in a different context. And that’s sort of where we are today in terms of where technology allows us to go. So I think when you ask, you know, where do we see ourselves like in the future versus today, some of those things are opportunities to think about.

R Blank 9:29
And so in that question, I asked you, I based it around the year 2071. And the real though the reason I did that is because that’s the purpose of the mission of the museum. Correct to envision life in the year 2071.

Sundar Raman 9:46
Yeah, and Christ only one has significance here in Dubai. I mean, the museum of the future, I should say. I by no means take credit for a lot of it because I think it was the work of a pretty phenomenal A group of people and the vision of, you know, a country like for a city like Dubai and a country like the UAE. But 2071 has significance for the UAE because it’s the 100 year anniversary of the UAE is. That’s a founding, you know, which is also kind of strange concept because it has existed way before that. And you know that time was just a kind of temporal marker. But it is a convenient, it’s a convenient measure, because we think of a lot of things in the abstract future in ways that we don’t know how to hold on to. But a 50, or future is something that is very tangible, you know, like, you will have friends and family and colleagues and parents possibly, who is still alive in that time. And so when somebody says build something for the 50 year future, it’s for somebody that, you know, when somebody says build something for 500, your future, no chance that you know them. Right, unless you’ve got some magic, like blood transfusion. Talking about which I haven’t figured out yet, we haven’t released it yet. They haven’t released that yet. But maybe on your podcast, we’ll find out about it. But I think that the tangible, speculative future is incredibly important, because it also gives us a sense of responsibility and accountability for the things that we’re working on. And I think that’s part of the kind of vision that was was put forward is what can be created and what has like a direct impact on on our environment, the people that we know, you know,

R Blank 11:37
and and what happens in 2072? Is it does it become the Museum of the past?

Sundar Raman 11:45
This is these are deep questions. We don’t we don’t we don’t deal with stuff like that.

These are dangerous cliffhanger questions. Like the hardest goes away, and you’re like, Who’s the next doctor who

R Blank 12:06
I saw,

Sundar Raman 12:07
but I think it is like the window that we work with constantly moves, right, the future. There’s a quote that is part of the museum’s facade, which is a quote attributed to His Highness Mohammed bin Rashid, ruler of Dubai, which is the future belongs to those who can imagine, design and execute it. The future is not for us to await but rather to create. I mean, I think it’s a real lot of very powerful things in there. It’s, it’s this idea that the future is not a destination, the process is is what’s important. And I think a lot of people have have said stuff to that effect. But it is important for us to keep it in mind. Because otherwise we think of it as somebody else’s problem. You know, the future is ours to do with as we will. And we don’t take that responsibility. We may end up in things that, you know, we don’t really want, which I think we’re seeing some of those ramifications now.

R Blank 13:12
Yeah, I agree with that. I do want to get into, in your words, deeper, deeper questions. But before one more before we get there is how did you end up in this role as Director of Technology at the museum of the future? I can tell you back when I was a software engineer and a UX designer, the job that you have at the place that you have would have been my dream. And I’m wondering how it is you you ended up in this role?

Sundar Raman 13:44
I’ll give you a slightly long answer, which is that I didn’t know that this role could exist. So prior to coming to the music of the future, I worked for a studio in New York City called local projects. And the person who hired me the first interview that I had with them, they asked me oh, sorry, they said that I would be working at the cutting edge of museum technology, which sounded like an oxymoron to me at the time. I was like, This person is insane. What do you mean, the cutting edge of museum technology sounds boring. And this is the problem, right? Like we’ve manufactured a narrative around like this thing, which is actually super fun, which is telling stories to people about stuff. And have said that that is relegated to one thing. And then if you’re a technologist, you should be working on a thing that is like, you know, either spreadsheets or data analysis or like writing websites. But Moog was like one of my huge inspirations when I was a kid, the fact that somebody could have made like, synthesiser to make devices. You know, like these kind of like people who tinkered and made like amazing contraptions. This was always like an amazing thing and you go ah, you know, but Being a roadie is not a real job being a musician is not a real job being a person of thought, a real job. And we’ve been told not a real job is the thing. And somehow, I did the not a real job for a long time by going into like solar and like permaculture and whatever, after I graduated. And somehow, that became a thing. And somehow, somebody found me and said, Do you want to do this other not a real job things has progressed from there. And I will say that it has become a real job because the idea of experienced design is real now, when consulting companies, you know, flaunt that they haven’t experienced design arm, or like large architecture for the next design. And everyone has like, a vision for it from x D, to D, D to VD, like, you know, they have all of these things, visual experience designed to experience design, whatever it’s arrived, right. And in a way, I think it’s this amazing time where technology is so prevalent, that creativity becomes part of the foreground of like, you know, kind of, like manifesting creativity through technology is actually possible to get paid for. And that was very hard previously. So I think I accidentally got to this point, by just doing something that I wanted to do, but didn’t realise that this job could possibly exist. So now I tell a lot of students, you know, like you can, you can actually go down this direction.

Stephanie Warner 16:32
Yeah, I feel like this, we’re in a time where you don’t pick one thing you do, there’s so many different things that you can learn, you don’t have to go to school to do, you know, to learn every part of of the, your interests. So it’s like, you know, you end up collecting all these skills, and they can become something that you can’t even predict in the future. And I find it fascinating to me, what you’re talking about is kind of is like a prediction and taking our current technology and thinking forward in a way that my brain just doesn’t quite wrap around that. But I wanted to ask just just for our live for myself, and for our listeners, I’m looking, I’ve gone to the Museum of the Future website. So it’s a museum of the future that a What would our listeners find your Can you tell us more about what this is? And and, you know, the approach? And then what the content is? Because I find it really fascinating?

Sundar Raman 17:31
Yeah, absolutely. So I think it’s hard for me to describe what the experience is only because the language that we have is limited in this particular domain, you know, because it hasn’t existed for that long, I think. And we have a tendency to head towards language like interactive, interesting experiences, immersive, you know, like, we use these same words, to kind of conjure some kind of an emotion. And it’s very hard to convey that. And so what I will say is that it is a story that is set, like a stage show, that you are part of you are one of the actors in the in this experience in stage show, where we transport you through this journey from current day, Dubai, to Dubai in 2071, out in space, and from there, you grapple with the challenges that we are confronted with, from energy for the future, how are we actually going to create enough energy for people to run all of the systems that they need to, which is through solar collectors and space that can be beamed back through microwave to the ecological problems that we’re dealing with, which is, you know, our destruction of species that kind of alarming rate? And how do we how do we bring that back to how do we distance ourselves from technology to the point where we have to focus back on the self and bring back some attention on wellness. So these three topical areas are what the museum focuses on, through these narratives of essentially transporting a person into a space that allows them to escape the current bounce that they’re working with. And that sounds a little bit grandiose even to myself say it, but it’s, it’s, it is it is a stage piece you know, it’s it’s a thing where we want people to be inspired and like feel a little bit uncomfortable about you know, what, they’re what they’re going through.

R Blank 19:42
It doesn’t just sound grandiose, it looks grandiose. I mean this building is it’s pretty stunning.

Sundar Raman 19:51
The building is insane. I see it every day and I’m like, I don’t get it. In a way that is kind of the A vision of a place like Dubai, I think it’s, it’s very ambitious. Obviously, I am I am working on the exhibition side of it, I was not involved with any of the architecture or anything like that. But in some ways, this building provides a baseline for where people can go, you know, we now know what’s possible. It used engineering that, you know, essentially has existed for a long time, but was pulled together in a way that we can now take it to the next level, you know, so it’s an opportunity for people to be inspired by and before potentially, you know, evolving into whatever the next phase of how buildings look and feel, you know, is

R Blank 20:45
so, and yeah, definitely looks different from the met in New York. So, so in your, in the course of your work as as technology director, right, because I’ve listened to a couple of interviews with you. And it seems to me that you, you put a lot of thought, not just into, like, as you’ve been saying, not just into how the technology works, but But what it all means for, for us and for society, and some of what it is doing to us. And there was one phrase, and I have a few few of these questions, but there was one phrase that I heard you mention in an interview, which is augmented kindness. So could you start by explaining what augmented kindness is, and why you think this is such an important concept?

Sundar Raman 21:33
Whoo, okay. We go into philosophy fast. Well,

R Blank 21:38
we got out of the shallow end.

Sundar Raman 21:43
I think one of the beautiful things about experience design is that you have to start from the perspective of the end user. I mean, I’m going to speak very much from the perspective of technology for a minute, okay? Because there are two ways to deal with technology, I think, and are you coming from a technology background, you probably empathise with this a little bit, you can start with, I know how to write code, I’m magic. And you know, everyone who has to use the thing that I make has to also recognise that this is magic. And they have to cast spells in order to kind of get the blessings of this magical thing that I have created, you know, the, and that attitude pervades the environment. Like I think the tech kind of mindset does exist there. And I don’t want to state it as though like, that is a bad thing. Because as a technologist, there is a certain allure to that thing to like, do this, to write some code, something happened, they’re like, Oh, my God, I made this thing happen. And that itself feels so magical. And when people don’t understand how magical it is, you’re like, Oh, you’re an idiot, you you, you obviously need to be trained to use it this way. The other side is to use it simply as a tool, you know, like, we can go around with the hammer, like sore and go look at my hammer. And like, I’m going to beat everything or go the hammer is a tool for me to do a lot of other things. But I can forge other things with it. And I think technology is like that, like, we can call a pencil technology. Or we can call Python technology or GPT or whatever. And go, how does the end user experience this thing. So if you have a poorly formulated knife, more than like, if you don’t have a good handle for it, you’re likely going to you know, skin yourself or chop a finger off, you know. And if you create a really beautiful product that feels great. The end user experience makes that product that much better for everyone you know, then it’s appreciable in different ways. And that’s where this kindness quotient comes in. And I think, you know, when we think about, it’s not just about going, Oh, actually, I’m going to I’m going to make it so that the handle is foldable. There’s another level of it is like who is going to use it. And we keep talking about things like, you know, people with other, you know, otherwise abilities. But in the UAE there’s a term for people with disabilities, which is people have determination. And it’s a kind of interesting rephrasing of this thing. And I think acting or creating with the intention of a person with another ability as the forefront doesn’t, and I think I’m stating something that everyone knows, but I’ll state it anyway, doesn’t diminish the product for the people who are regularly abled, it actually makes it even more fun for everyone, you know. So in a strange way, saying something kind to someone is not just like, Oh, I’m being nice to this person. You take it to a whole other level where the entire environment changes, you know? So I think when we do that, when we think about that from every aspect of what we do when we write code with the intention of kindness, with the with the experience First, we actually create magic. It’s like, I mean, I don’t really want to understated or overstated. But when something is great, you can feel it in the environment. It’s like, people are happy, you know. And, you know, I think we probably could use more kindness in the world. And I think technology has often shifted us in the direction of being very, very functional. So maybe we need to put more fun back in the functional.

R Blank 25:31
So yeah, it sounds like you’re describing a design principle. Is that you consider,

Sundar Raman 25:40
I mean, yeah. Dieter ROM? I mean, this is definitely not me. Like, I don’t think I invented some new paradigm about this. You know, a lot of people I

R Blank 25:49
met, but like, concept of augmented kindness is a principle that you want people to be aware of as they design. Technological experiences.

Sundar Raman 25:59
Yeah, I think so. I think we can always like, you know, debate what kindness means, what augmentation means. But I think what a statement like that helps people to go out, okay, like, I can kind of delve into this a little bit. And I can I can work from this principle. But yeah, it is a design principle.

R Blank 26:19
And so using that as a starting point, you also talk about a future in which walking into a building, just walking into a building can require a learning curve, right? You use the metaphor of an Android building versus an iPhone building. But that doesn’t seem to me to be kind. Right? I mean, because you’re exactly. So before I asked you the follow up question, can you describe just I think a lot of our listeners probably got it just from the metaphor. But what is this future in which you need to learn how to walk into a building?

Sundar Raman 27:02
Well, I mean, I think we already experienced this on a day to day basis, where somebody’s like, Can I use your phone? Because mine has run out of battery? And they’re like, oh, it’s an iPhone. I don’t know how to turn it on. Oh, it’s an Android, I know how to make a call. It’s a telephone. I mean, it’s, it’s insane that we’re at this point, because somebody decided, I am going to obfuscate the interface to such a degree that the other person conscious use it, you know, and you can go, yeah, each technology evolution comes with a certain amount of friction, you know, AC versus DC kind of thing. But when we talk about spatial in interfaces, which is where we’re very rapidly going, where buildings are becoming much more, I mean, I like to use this terms, conversational spaces. And what that means is that, you know, right now, we, we just yell at things right? We go, Hey, Alexa, hey, Google, just like this. You know, very, very, like, rude interface too

R Blank 28:05
polite to my fire stuff. But yeah.

Sundar Raman 28:09
works all the time. I’ve tried to please google, can you do this? It doesn’t work. It’s like, better than when I’m trying to it, you know. But, but what happens when you’re in spaces? And what happens when an entire generation is growing up with this attitude? That environment must be yelled at for it to be reactive? Because I think we are maybe I’m overthinking this a little bit. But plants are part of our environment, animals are a part of our environment. If we think of just the room as our environment, and we can be rude to it. Where does that line stop? You know, but I think we need to think about how we create interfaces that allow us to kind of have a certain amount of, let’s say decorum around how we how we have these interfaces, but also kindness to the things around us a rocket never just a rock the certain amount of emotion that gets imbued in these objects that are in our space, you know?

R Blank 29:09
Yeah, I was I was last year. I was very polite to Bing and it seems very appreciative that that’s not a joke. It’s like Oh, thank you. That was very good work and like, Oh, you’re so welcome. I really liked doing that for you. And

Sundar Raman 29:25
it may seem dumb, but it’s I think, I think people are thinking about this further. You know,

Stephanie Warner 29:30
I think it does make a difference. My grandmother has a nest and she so she is hey Google. And she always says thank you. And one day she looked at me and she was like, I don’t know if she hears me or not, but I always say she never says anything back but she must hear me right. So cute.

Sundar Raman 29:48
Somebody is taking taking note of this and is going to have a You’re welcome in there at some point.

Stephanie Warner 29:54
So I hope so. I think I think it does it’s I love that this whole conversation because he isn’t outweighs that I generally think but it’s like, I don’t think you’re overthinking any of this stuff. I think these are the things that we precisely need to be thinking about because there’s an impact if we don’t.

R Blank 30:11
When you talked in that, in that answer, you just gave the difference, you know, the different user experience of Android versus iOS. And you described a sort of intent. And I don’t know if this was intentional for you, but you took on sort of the voice of a developer saying, I want to obfuscate this experience from the people who know the other experience. And maybe that’s true, that’s not how I think of it, right, what I think of is the there’s the iOS team, and they think I want to do this, I want to do this. And the augmented kindness or the support for the the other user base is just not there as a driving design principle. And, and that’s how I see a future like this emerging where you can walk into a building and not have any idea how to use it. And when I heard you speak about this before, you talked about it, in terms that, that we’re in this situation, and the situation is going to get even worse, because companies are allowed to do whatever they want, can can you help put some guide rails on on that, that that that thread of the conversation? What do you mean, when you say companies are and we’re talking here, obviously, about I think, specifically the tech companies, but what do you mean, when you say they’re allowed to do whatever they want?

Sundar Raman 31:31
I don’t think it’s only about tech companies. It’s a sense of how to limit other parties from getting access to the interfaces. You know, by that I mean, you know, we’ve written API’s, we know how an API is supposed to operate, you can write an API kindly, which means that the other person doesn’t have to read a ream of documentation to figure out how to do stuff, it should feel, it should feel intuitive and elegant. And these are also very, very loaded terms. So I will totally concede that. But it is possible to write something that is not overly flowery, you know, you don’t have to read something like, you know, Dostoevsky level stuff to like, understand how something works, you know, like, but it does, it also doesn’t have to be a children’s book, you know, somewhere in between, there’s a way to go, Okay, we all understand how things have to work, we should be able to explain it to each other relatively easily. And we should be able to make things work with each other, you know, but when, for example, you know, a block of code cannot be taken from one environment to another. And, again, there are complexities to some of this, I totally, I totally understand that. But you see that there are API’s and mechanisms of integration, that we know how these things work. Like, I’ll give you an example. both iOS and Android have a mechanism for augmented reality and for object placement in the real world. Okay, so in 3d space, they use different standards and different kinds of coordinate systems. Certainly, there are standards that are attempting to be written in order to make all of this stuff work together. But in both of those cases, there’s a certain amount of, you know, proprietary Ness that companies are trying to fight for, they want their IP about something. And of course, they want their market share. So if people are forced to use one device, and they get their world of objects within that, and that object cannot be transferred over to the other world, you know, they have a certain amount of when, but And so from a commercial perspective totally makes sense. From a kindness perspective, it doesn’t you like I should be able to go I should just be able to take the data and put it somewhere else. I had all my mp3 is all my on my iPod Touch. I cannot literally transfer them to my Android phone. If there’s no mechanism

R Blank 34:02
drives me nuts. You can’t even really transfer them from your MacBook to your iPhone unless you pay for an iCloud account.

Sundar Raman 34:11
Which is, you know, like the whole premise of DRM. I understand what they started with. But it went down a path of not very kind. I mean, I would say, two totally step in a very big pile of of stuff. The WGA the workers, the Writers Guild, the writers, the Writers Guild strike all of this this brings up a lot of these things of like, where exactly is the kindness in the system? For a set of people who are actually creating some amazing content? It makes us all happy generally, you know, except for us, for the finale, our Game Rankings, Breaking Bad finales under way happier dude, like I don’t know anything away But yeah, there’s some amazing things that people create. And like, we don’t really provide an environment where we, we go, we’re gonna be kind to you, because we created this thing. It’s amazing. Our technology is going to facilitate this for you, we’re going to make an environment that makes it easier for you and things like that.

R Blank 35:17
So when companies aren’t doing something that we want them to do, it seems to me there are two key drivers to get that change to happen. And one is regulation, and two is consumer demand. Now, maybe there’s there’s additional drivers that I’m not thinking of, and I’m happy for you to, to let me know. But if you’re suggesting, and I’m not disagreeing with anything, you’re saying, some of this terminology is new to me. But it all sounds totally aligned with the way I look at things. If you’re suggesting augmented kindness should be a design principle that is more widespread, but companies aren’t doing it. How do we get from the place we’re in now? To the place where the kindness quotient is is increased?

Sundar Raman 36:08
This is a good question my, my background has the evidence behind this is that if you do something that has value, it will we will spread. The the other evidence is that if it has value, it will spread. And then somebody will exploit it. This is sadly, I don’t know how we reconcile this. And where I came from, for this is the open source movement. When I first encountered it, I was like, what, what is this thing? How is it possible? You know, so I’m the generation that saw the first generation of Linux come out on like, I think it was 24 floppy drives. And like, you know, you do this whole thing where you do the compile, process all of this stuff, and you’re like, Oh, my God, this is irritating. And then you’re like, Wait, this is for free. I can do all of this for free, and you go, wait, I can make all of this other stuff for free that this other thing doesn’t work at all. And like I can create networks and all this other stuff. And that essentially took over the world, we would not have the world that we have today had it not been for a few. I mean, arguably insane people who just were like, We’re gonna make open source stuff, right. And they did it so well, like so incredibly well, like, I don’t think that it’s possible to put them on a high enough pedestal for what they did. The problem is that that goodness was also taken, and some of it was extracted away, you know, those same like open licences were then exploited, and people made money out of it and didn’t like, contribute back to those communities. Again, very complicated, I don’t, by any means, pretend to have an answer to all of this. But it did take it to a certain level where we were able to generally benefit from the work of these people who said, like, this is the this is the approach that we should take, the proprietary model did not win. And the proof in the pudding, there is Microsoft, right, which initially was like, open source is the worst thing that you can possibly have. And, you know, it’ll kill your kittens and whatever else. And then now, it’s it’s part of Windows, like a kind of a radical shift. But simultaneously, we have to get to this point of like, getting more and more people educated on what that is, and kind of being engaged, you know, just complicated when, when the disparities exist, sorry, we’re going way off when

R Blank 38:38
going off, that’s what the conversation is.

Sundar Raman 38:41
Okay, cool. But I do if the thing is like, how do how does this get pushed farther? It’s by having these conversations and actually doing it. I don’t have a community of kind of like augmented kindness developers yet, yet. Everyone out there, join my join my, my waggon here, and we can figure out how to make this happen. But I do think any idea like this, where people are doing things for the betterment of our communities, has an effect on the environment. And we’ll actually have traction over time because people want it.

R Blank 39:20
And just to pull one other thread in, and you’re being very generous with your time, and I appreciate that, but one other thread into this conversation. Another thing, because I’ve heard you speak and I could go on for for hours. I promise you, I won’t do that. But one of the other interesting things I heard you talk about was your vision of humanity as being quite fragile. And I’m wondering what it is you you, you know, you mean by that?

Sundar Raman 39:52
Well, where that came from is, you know, I had to think about why it is that we see come so easily to certain things. I mean, one of the places that it that precipitated was in how there’s so much polarisation in in dialogue around the world, I don’t think it’s specific to the US, although, like the US was where I, I felt it the most, a few years ago. And it’s because it’s possible to manipulate humans relatively easily. I don’t think that that it’s, it’s, it’s like a major thing that you can make someone feel bad. I mean, it’s a few choice words that the right moment, and you can make someone feel bad for a pretty long time. And that old adage, you know, Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me that this total nonsense words can hurt you for way longer than sticks and stones, break your bones, you’ll heal. But the words will stay in there, and there’s no way for you to get it out. It’s like, it’s, it’s like the year worms that like, just borrow in your skull somewhere. So I think the fragility of humanity is that, that we somehow know this thing. And that that kind of tool of manipulation is been has been let out of the Pandora’s box. And as it spreads, more and more people think that utilising those tools is actually cool, it’s a little bit like, I have the magic, and you know, I can make you feel bad. And therefore I’m the magician. Being kind is way harder, like doing the open thing, doing the thing that’s community community oriented is significantly harder. And when you’re when it creates an environment where you don’t, you’re not the only one who gets credit. It’s like everyone has to get credit for it, you know, which is, which is a little bit, you know, ego diminishing. But I think this is where the fragility of humanity right now is most concerning for me. Because if we continue down this path of this slightly sociopathic like, you know, manipulation of people and like trying to inject partisanship, I don’t know where we go, like, it just seems to keep escalating to the point where there’s not a way to like, undo that, and bring it back to a place where we can be kind to each other.

R Blank 42:13
So, as I hear you answer my questions, and I appreciate it. It’s a very thoughtful set of responses. What I’m what I’m wondering, is, if you feel and I, of course, I’ve never been to Dubai. So I’ve never been to this museum. All I’m going on is your description on the website. But do you feel because you’re the director of technology, that that the the philosophy that you advocate or elucidate only only very little of which we’ve had the opportunity to discuss here? Do you feel that your philosophy is reflected in the vision that is effectively advocated or illustrated in the exhibits at the museum? Or is it more that working on this type of vision is giving you an opportunity to sort of hash through these ideas?

Sundar Raman 43:07
I think that’s a very good question. And I’ll do a little bit of introspection on this, which is, when I came to Dubai, I had to get a driver’s licence. And I had just moved from New York City. And I was like, oh my god, DMV, we all know this feeling. Your listeners probably know this feeling. You just have to say DMV, and everyone. So I prepared myself with like, Okay, I’m gonna go deal with this, I go to this thing, and I look it up, and I have to go to this thing called the happiness centre. Like these people are fucking crazy like this. But it’s like, they’re, they’re nuts for like having a place like this. But I go to this thing. And you, you go to the happiness Centre for most things in Dubai, it sounds a little bit nuts. But even the premise of like, I have to go somewhere where the objective is to make sure that I am happy at the end of this transaction is kind of wonderful. You know, like, I came with a boatload of cynicism. And at this point, my cynicism is relatively diminished. You know, it’s, it’s hard to not have cynicism in the world. But I will say that even those sort of minor interventions allow people to think in slightly different ways. But places like Dubai and the UAE and the Gulf generally are very high hospitality focused, you know, so it’s very much like the, this, the sense of like, you know, being being aware of the other person having empathy is is very deeply rooted in how the culture operates. And so there’s something something good about that. But I would say that I don’t know Only if the environment affected this more in me, I mean, I’ve had this sort of attitude for a while. But it obviously has to have some kind of an effect. And that permeates everything that we do. So I will give away one thing for why people should come to the museum of the future. Our operations teams who are awesome, have this thing called a golden ticket, similar to Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. So the golden ticket is given both to staff and to visitors. So random people have this thing, visitors can give a golden ticket to any staff member that they think did a good job, or they liked them, or their hair was great, or whatever doesn’t matter. You know, similarly, staff can give a golden ticket to any visitor, for whatever reason, there’s no, there’s no parameters for why this has to happen. It’s a random act of kindness, it changes the dynamics pretty, pretty incredibly, you know, it makes people just feel like, wow, someone did something for me, you know. And these kinds of little interventions, I think are, what life is really about, you know, we have random good things that happen to us all the time, random, bad things that happens all the time. If we can override the bad things with more random acts of goodness, I think something cool might happen. And Dubai is kind of magical in that a lot of stuff like this is is injected into the system, like they try very hard to promote this idea. Some of it is like, you know, is very arguable, you know, you can be cynical about it. But at the end of the day, like people generally feel like, you know, the, they’re being facilitated for the things that they want to do and like progress, you know,

Stephanie Warner 46:45
yeah, I can’t really imagine a play, like, what would the United States be like, if every, like public space or interaction was planned with the idea and the concept of facilitating these random acts of kindness? Like what, uh, that’s just not It sounds good. Sounds glorious. And I have to step back for a second and just make a statement, but I can’t imagine how it must have been going from New York City, which is not known for lots of acts of kindness, necessarily, to a place this this place, this magical place that you’re describing where it is that you know, trained hospitality is the focus, and trying to infuse this, these opportunities for kindness into the whole culture, like I can’t, how long did it take for you to really absorb and get into, you know, get into that culture, and accept it? Because you know, New York?

Sundar Raman 47:43
Well, well, what else say that I had a very strange experience in New York, which is, New York is people who, actually, I’ll give you an anecdote. I think the first week that I moved to New York, which was in 2009. I was on the street, like, I forget where we’re like 23rd Street or something. And suddenly, the rush of people running, you know, ahead of me, it turns out, somebody had slipped and fallen down One of the subway stairs. And they went down, like within, I would say, total transaction time was 45 seconds, like people ran, they grabbed this lady who I think had broken her leg, they some one of the people who ran there with a paramedic got this ambulance showed up, they set her up. She’s on her way, and people come up, and they’re like, damn, like, Why did this have to happen today, I miss my train down this. Now the same people were helping her right there, like, they will run, they will help someone they will do the thing, and then they will they will grumble about it, which I think is awesome. You know, it’s like, thing, which is like, I gotta do my part. You know, I’m gonna do my part. You know? Yeah, this person screwed up my day. But whatever. Like, I had to help them that just because what we do as human beings, but don’t make me be nice to you.

Stephanie Warner 49:00
I missed my train. And I had to be nice to

Sundar Raman 49:04
someone. They want to talk about the helping someone, they’ll be like, I Yeah.

Stephanie Warner 49:07
But I, there’s, there’s something beautiful in the I’m not I’m just reacting I’m going to do the thing that needs like that. That instinct is there to protect in that, that that’s nice. That’s, I’m gonna hold on to that part of the story.

Sundar Raman 49:24
To have this, I think there’s a certain amount of like, I think our real humanity comes out. I mean, I’m obviously slightly optimistic about a lot of stuff. I think, inherently we have this capacity to do this stuff. And the farther we live from each other, I think our incapacity to have like close interactions, maybe encourages us to not feel like we can help each other you know, because in New York, you can have somebody who’s your best friend for three stops, you know, for like 20 minutes, and you’ll never see them again, but you will pour your heart out to them and maybe that’s okay. Do you know, but if you live in the suburbs, by the time you meet somebody, you’re like, Oh my God, they’re gonna see me again, when I go to the grocery store. I love to tell them about this thing. Right? I probably

Stephanie Warner 50:10
shouldn’t use them as my may come back later.

Sundar Raman 50:15
Maybe there’s a little bit of that. But to answer your question, very long winded Lee, it Dubai is very similar in some respects, because it’s the city of hustle. You know, like, it is not. It’s not like, Oh, this is the chill. This isn’t like, you know, Hawaii or, you know, you’re not like just, you know, relaxing. On the other hand, there is this whole facilitation of like, we’re going to make sure that things can be there for you. But that requires leadership to kind of think about these kinds of things, you know, to go.

Stephanie Warner 50:48
Yeah, and that’s, that fascinates me. Yeah.

Sundar Raman 50:50
Yeah. So I think the US is the US was that that was the whole point of it, you know, bring us your porn, then weary and you know, you’re crippled, and we will make sure that they’re okay. And we will, like, make this work. But somewhere along the way, we lost a little bit of it. Yeah, for sure.

R Blank 51:08
So it, you said you’re encouraging all of the listeners to visit this museum. I should note, when you browse the site, there’s a there’s a pretty clear warning that you need to plan in advance, right? Because this isn’t like a last minute. Oh, I’m in I’m in Dubai, let me get a ticket for the museum. It’s a popular place.

Sundar Raman 51:30
It is, uh, we are less sold out than we used to be. It used to be six weeks sold out. Now, I think you can get a ticket within a week. So Oh, okay. And I mean, we try to accommodate people as much as possible. But there’s only so like, literally, there’s only so many people that can go through at a time. And we don’t want to overcrowd. Yeah, I would say yeah, just planned for it. I mean, if you were coming to Dubai from elsewhere, you would plan for it anyway. So you know. And when you choose a Footlight?

R Blank 52:01
Just for my personal knowledge, do you have the ability to issue a golden ticket? Or do I need to befriend somebody, I have never

Sundar Raman 52:07
been given a golden ticket, like I don’t have the authority.

But I also have to say that I think a lot of people don’t understand what it takes to do operations in places like museums, right, just the sheer volume of like, different demands that people have. And so it’s it’s kudos to anyone who works in the service side of things. It is like, it’s a job that I would do very poorly.

R Blank 52:44
Well, Sundar, this is this has been a wonderful conversation, as as I said, I could go on, on on the deeper topics in particular for hours, but I’ve already taken you for longer than I said, I would, although I did warn you that I thought I might. But again, the museum is called the museum of the future. The URL is museum of the future.ae. And we’ll have that in the show notes. And Sandra, thank you so much for taking the time to join us on the healthier tech podcast.

Sundar Raman 53:13
Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Stephanie. This is super fun.

Stephanie Warner 53:16
Yeah, it’s been great. I was telling our I was typing to him. I’m like, I can just listen to you guys for like, just keep talking. This conversation is just gonna sit and listen, and I’ll pop in every once in a while. It’s been fun. It’s been a really great conversation. Thank you so much. Thank you.

Announcer 53:32
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the healthier tech podcast. Remember to check the show notes for all the links and resources mentioned in the show. Please like and subscribe to the healthier tech podcast on Apple, Spotify or your podcast platform of choice. Get your free quickstart guide to building a healthy relationship with technology and our latest information at healthier tech.co

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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R Blank

R Blank

R Blank is the founder of Healthier Tech and the host of “The Healthier Tech Podcast”, available iTunes, Spotify and all major podcasting platforms.

R has a long background in technology. Previously, R ran a software engineering firm in Los Angeles, producing enterprise-level solutions for blue chip clients including Medtronic, Apple, NBC, Toyota, Disney, Microsoft, the NFL, Ford, IKEA and Mattel.

In the past, he served on the faculty at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering where he taught software engineering, as well as the University of California, Santa Cruz.

He has spoken at technology conferences around the world, including in the US, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands, and he is the co-author of “AdvancED Flex Development” from Apress.

He has an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and received his bachelor’s degree, with honors, from Columbia University. He has also studied at Cambridge University in the UK; the University of Salamanca in Spain; and the Institute of Foreign Languages in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

Connect with R on LinkedIn.

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