APIs are hardly new technologies, but their integration into our digital infrastructure (and our lives) defines much of our relationship with shared technology. For a quick refresher, APIs are basically ports that software developers create in a digital ocean to allow other developers to interact with their systems. This is how your budgeting app integrates with your bank accounts, like your tax prep app imports all of your investing transactions.
As the internet becomes more connected, it’s becoming clear that APIs are the foundation of what’s coming up “digital empathy” – defined as the ability of otherwise separate systems to recognize and understand each other’s needs, just as two people can show empathy by recognizing another’s perspective.
Interconnectivity of APIs
Even the most advanced algorithms created by modern software engineering cannot meet the needs, concerns, and use cases of every conceivable end user. APIs are the means by which tough decisions are made. Which preferences are satisfied? Whose concerns are at the forefront? Who is this software for?
This may not seem particularly surprising from the perspective of existing interacting applications, but as the world moves in virtual reality experiences and brain-computer interfaces, the importance of digital empathy will be critical to how we interact with each other and the world through software .
Currently, developers use APIs to access systems to provide data, receive data, or otherwise interact with code created by another developer, team, company, etc. Many applications are simply a collection of API integrations that feed data into dashboards so users can visualize events in multiple locations. In this way, these windows into the behavior of other systems allow “digital empathy” for the end user viewing the dashboard.
If human empathy is the ability to recognize another’s emotional state, then digital empathy is the ability to gain the same insight into a digital system. This transparency fosters the ability for outsiders to understand what’s happening on the other side of the API curtain. Excellent APIs enable massive amounts of access while protecting sensitive data. The smartest APIs are inherently empathetic – they anticipate and respect the needs and concerns of the code and user at the other end of the interaction.
Imagine a conversation with a therapist. How effective can that person be if they help you without having access to the underlying data that describes your mental health needs? The therapist’s ability to make connections between the state of your world and the way you feel (empathize with you) depends largely on the amount of data he or she has access to.
APIs work analogously, allowing users, developers, and their software to access, understand, and interact with important (and often disparate) data within a system. In this regard, digital empathy is often correlated with the depth and breadth of API access.
More specifically, a group of developers must anticipate the desired use cases of other users and developers. APIs are improving rapidly and so are developers’ ability to build products and extend the use of existing products. This has catalyzed the evolution of the internet and will eventually evolve into the brain-computer interface driven metaverse virtual reality we see on the horizon.
machines and people
Perhaps the most powerful application of digital empathy, just over the horizon, is BCI technology. Sooner than we can imagine, people will be able to understand each other’s perspectives, emotions, and even thoughts as if they were their own. This technology will change the way people connect in ways we can’t imagine.
This remarkable shift is made possible by the next generation of APIs that digitally transfer human thinking between humans and machines. The line between digital empathy and actual empathy will forever blur—and eventually become indistinguishable. Consequently, APIs will be the digital equivalent of body language, tone of voice, and all other cues that humans (erm…computers) use to understand one another. The difference between a face-to-face conversation and one over the phone is a great metaphor for this.
Currently, our digital interactions with one another are akin to a phone call with a stranger, conveying the bare minimum information required but losing the nuance. Eventually, these interactions will be just as efficient (and even more efficient) as the in-person equivalent (where even our innate perceptual abilities may fall short). APIs already provide the infrastructure to bring this world to life.
As APIs and the way computers communicate improve, we will be able to unlock the true potential of our connected world. In this connected world, software will be required to anticipate a greater number of requests and make more complicated decisions.
Things like brain-computer interfaces will, after sufficient calibration, communicate with other humans and machines. What information should be granted access to? Which access should remain private? Which questions should be answered? Humans will be able to use computers to understand the emotions of others as if they were their own. What access should empathic software grant?
We work diligently for a world powered by digital empathy. Greater human understanding, seamless transfer of knowledge, and a true, tangible understanding of the emotions of others are emerging, and APIs have paved the path we follow to get there and the roadblocks along the way.
Jevan Fox is Chief Revenue Officer at AE Studio.
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