Crowdsourced Empathy

Delphine Carlson

Crowdsourced empathy and open­self, empowering yourself through millions of others

Written extract from the documentary by Eickelberg, D. and Girard, P. (2035). Futuremag, Crowdsourced empathy and open-self [Documentary]. Production : Arte France.

Hello everybody, this is Futuremag, the place to talk about innovations. Innovations of today that will change the world of tomorrow.

Back in 2025, French government has voted an universal income for every citizen. Since then, every citizen earns a regular amount of money which led to redefining the value of work, money and time. Today, according to TNS Sofres poll in July 2035 about “French and their relation to money”, 71% of people tend to value time over money. Some citizens still exchange their time over working for an income but many exchange their time over working for giving time to other persons or to themselves. This became common since the definition of working and earning money for it has been redefined as some jobs has disappeared due to computational systems.

Average life of a French citizen is to be involved in various social activities, from associations to hobbies, therefore, citizens spend more time at home doing activities alone or with friends and family. Most people decided to do social goods instead of having to work for a salary.

In the past ten years, we have seen more and more people getting involved in vernacular productions at home, especially since the boom of domestic 3D printing enabling the printing of a wide range of materials like electronics, plastic, fabric and even organic matter. It is now a solid trend that people tend to use everything from their garbage to their garden, from their self­energy to their very own emotions in order to produce something out of it.


On the online community of makers,a new type of connected object has been in trend this year, people are calling them ambients and it is making use of people feeling emotions. We have been interviewing the first coder of the ambient that put the code on

Charlotte Molin a.k.a gn0thi_seaut0n, first ambient coder, somewhere in France

“I had a bit of a crazy idea that an object could connect people from all over the world at home through their emotions and personality in order to cope with their inner­self. I got inspired by Plato saying “Self­knowledge cannot be gained but through others”.

There are millions of people with their emotions that are available out there, so why not make use of their emotional data to bring comfort to each other? To feel not alone and to get some soothing words?

I posted a piece of code and the files to print both the electronic circuit and the standard coton­shape and put it out there. At the beginning, we were a small community trying it and improving it and then it became bigger, people from the other side of the globe started to express their feelings and tweaked the code.

Yeah, so I was curious to see how we could help people reaching their inner­self with matching emotions with millions of others. This was a crazy idea but it brought value to people’s life I think and it is fascinating how people make use of it.”

The open­self, open­source your emotional data

Lately, ambients have brought some discussions in the open­source community because such connected objects have shifted the open­source from raw data to open­sourcing emotional data, which is also known as open­self.

We went to see Jean­Michel Messikian at Fabulab Toulon to get to know more about “ambients” and the implication of the open­self.

Jean­Michel Messikian, Fab Lab Manager at Toulon FabuLab

“What is happening right now is that people are offering their time to others because they are more involved in local communities, taking ownership of their own life and interests. “Ambients” are embedded into these societal changes we have seen since the universal law income was voted. Nowadays, by sharing their emotional data through “ambients”, people are open­sourcing their inner­self. They are putting into the crowdsourced network their emotional data. Somehow, they are opening the source code of their emotions to millions of others, at home using their “ambient”.”

How “ambients” work

“This example of first generation of ambients is connected to a crowdsourced empathy network and is only working if it capture voices of people expressing their emotions.

So the ambient is making use of people voicing their emotions into it. These emotions voiced into the “ambient” might be used, later on, to help another person deal with his own life. And, from a personal perspective, these expressed emotions will help you deal with your emotions. It is an asynchronous exchange between strangers connected with the same emotion. Every voices are anonymous and informations about you are encrypted.

So basically after printing it, what you do is you just put it into your home and, when switched on, you voice your emotion and it connects you to the crowdsourced empathy. It is a really simple piece of code of artificial intelligence to make use of people’s emotional data.

It started with voices, but now other users have tweaked the code to capture and transmit emotional data of the crowd through not only voice, but heat, smell, movements, changes of the ambient shape…”

Slices of life out in the wild

So how are people living with such “ambients” at home? We have been investigating in Paris, on a micro sidewalk, asking pedestrians about slices of life with their “ambient”.


“When I am using an ambient, I really appreciate taking several roles, like an actor, trying to empathize with people and then recording what people would feel pleased to hear. I am watching a lot of movies to get inspired and also listening to people in the subway talking about their lives. I am using the ambient for myself sometimes, but what I mostly appreciate is providing nice words that could make people feel better.”


“I have been using it for 2 months now and I feel connected with others in an intriguing way. When I hear other people from the crowdsourced empathy, I feel the comfort of not being alone. I feel thankful to people and I know I am contributing somehow somewhere to someone feeling better.”


“The experience is a bit like a confessional. I use it in a quiet moment after a bit of silent reflection, almost everyday. I do not talk about my feelings to people I know, I like keeping it private. When I express it to the ambient, I know it will just go away, I would suffer no judgement. It helps to just voice your emotion.”

Prospective future

“Ambients” are bringing to life a vision where crowdsourced empathy will trigger people taking ownership of their emotional data, enabling self­empowerment through connected objects, such as ambients at home. It will be exciting to see what future products will make use of crowdsourced empathy and open­source emotional data. Which services and networks could use such innovation to bring value to people’s everyday life? Any idea? Build it and open­source it, maybe it will be in our next program, bye!


Written extract from the short film by Carlson, D. (2035). A crowdsourced empathy world map [Short film]. Production : Arte France.

2030 _ David, 25 years old, Rennes

David has been to a movie with friends tonight, it was a French drama about a disparition in a family and the actors were quite good. On one scene, the main character is writing a sentence on a postcard to his missing daughter, he just writes it because it makes him feel good. David thought:

“Oh this is a great line, I could record it for the crowdsourced empathy community.”

Back home, he takes the ambient on his knee, take a deep breath and compose its best tone of voice:

“I miss you too, I wish I was here to see you growing.”

2035 _ Kelly, 24 years old, Lyon

Kelly gets back home after a day at work. She has spent the day giving her time to kids aged between 1 and 3 years old, she is exhausted and sit on her sofa. She lost her dad 3 years ago, and she keeps herself busy not to think about it so much. But tonight, it comes back again, she feels an irrepressible pain that makes her want to cry.

She takes the ambient and put it close to her heart. The ambient is an oval shape made of white cotton white two white cotton tubes, it is soft under the hands and gently glowing with pale blue shades of light. The light shows the under skin of the ambient, it looks like a heart pulsating with the glowing light. She is keeping it close to her heart, the shape makes her feel some comfort.

She whispers to it: “I miss you so much. Today I can’t mute my pain, so I speak here hoping you will see it. Everyone can hear it, but I think that if everyone can hear it, you can also see it.”

She stays silent for a while. Her voice has been captured by the ambient into light and she is looking at her thoughts going away into the crowdsourced empathy.

Some voices start to whisper from the light. She is lost in her thoughts. After a while, she puts her ear on one tube of the ambient and she hears some voices; it is voices of people expressing their pain to a missing person as she just did. She listens for a while, moving the ambient close to her ear, she is listening, exploring a map of the world of people expressing their pain. It reminds her of her own pain but also of the fact that she is not alone.

After a while, she hears someone: “I miss you too, I wish I was here to see you growing.”

She deeply knows it is not her dad who said this, but hearing it made her feel some comfort, he would have said the same to her.

2040 _ Alexandre, 30 years old, Toulouse

He is lying on his bed, staring at the ambient, he takes it into his arms. It was the ambient she has offered him last year. It is a souvenir of Anaïs, his previous girlfriend who left him one months ago. He wishes she had not broke up, he stares at the blue light coming in and out from the ambient. The ambient is starting to glow brighter and finally is delivering a voice: “I miss you so much. Today I can’t mute my pain, so I speak here hoping you will see it. Everyone can hear it, but I think that if everyone can hear it, you can also see it.”

He wishes she had said this, he wishes she was also hurt, he convinces himself she had said it … But then he think she is deluding himself.

Future Domestic Landscape

Design Fictions from the MFA Interaction Design programme, Umeå Institute of Design, 2015–2017.

Umeå Interaction Design

Written by

Stories from students of the MFA programme in Interaction Design at Umeå Institute of Design.

Future Domestic Landscape

Design Fictions from the MFA Interaction Design programme, Umeå Institute of Design, 2015–2017.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade