Living in the 21st century, humans have integrated technology into almost every function of our lives, both business and personal. Technology's evolution grows exponentially in both speed and complexity in order to make tasks, once impossible, relatively easy. With its integrated presence and use in society, people have found ways to apply it in context of social and political issues. This is apparent when we look at the Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) conference held in Denver, Colorado at the beginning of May. With 2,900 attendees in 2017, the annual gathering was the largest of its kind in the world.
For those in the technology field interested in career advancement and networking, events such as this CHI conference are a necessity, but with recent travel restrictions brought by executive orders signed by President Trump, many technology professionals are either unable or unwilling to travel to the United States. In fact, many researchers threatened to boycott the conference if organizers didn't move it outside the United States. Naturally, the organizers sought a solution to this problem by using robotics.
On the conference's website, the organizers called this phenomenon "telepresence attendance." The tech company Beam gave the conference a steep discount to provide mobile, robotic terminals available for rent ($300/day) for conference "attendees" who weren't physically there for one reason or another. German researcher Susan Boll appeared on one of these rolling interfaces as a way to protest the Trump administration's immigration and travel ban targeting seven Muslim majority nations.
Initially, US Courts opposed the ban, both in its original and revised versions, as discriminatory. By the end of June, however, the Supreme Court allowed parts of Mr. Trump's travel ban to go into effect.
Though at the time of the conference, many participants were technically able to enter the US, they still did not attend out of fear or protest. "It is a political statement, right? That we can allow people to come," said Gloria Mark, General Chair of CHI and professor of informatics at the University of California Irving. Even with telepresence robots reserved for people who were denied visas, the conference still lost some attendees over the ban.
Still, the prospect of this technology opens new doors to communication. Think of it as an upgraded version of Skype allowing people to communicate in the middle of a crowded room attended by CHI student volunteers to assist with any technical malfunctions, of which there were a few. In light of this recent development, it appears that technology has an easier task adapting to the political environment in which we find ourselves. Politics and law have traditionally been slower to adapt to expanding technology, but perhaps developments such as this will significantly assist in bridging the gap.