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Sense.ly’s Cathy Pearl On The Rise of Virtual Caregivers

gryphon agency SF pr ux ui media relations technology phoneDoreen Lorenzo interviewed Cathy Pearl, director of user experience for the virtual nurse startup Sense.ly, in Co.Design for the column Designing Women

Pearl began computer programming as a child, designing a chatbot-like software application in which the user could type in a query and get a response. Her motivation was always to get the computer to talk back, and it continued through her work at a speech recognition company, Nuance Communications, and in her many years in consulting afterward. The field of speech recognition has evolved rapidly in the last five years, allowing designers to work on larger and complex design spaces such as voice interfaces.

In the interview, Pearl described her fascination with data and dating. Determining what attracts people to each other is often difficult to describe or explain. She draws parallels between her research on dating and her current work at Sense.ly, which focuses on how to help people suffering from chronic health conditions. Pearl told Lorenzo, “ I think some of what people need from relationships is also similar to what people need from their care provider, which is someone to acknowledge how you’re doing, how you’re feeling, and really listen to you and feel understood.”  

Pearl described how Sense.ly provides a virtual nurse that walks patients through their daily tasks, answers questions, and feeds data to their clinician. The ultimate goals of the company are to keep patients monitored and engaged as well as healthier and happier while saving money. A big problem that Pearl mentioned about virtual assistants is that they are 99 percent female: “I just want to say to all virtual assistant designers out there, just stop. Let’s not make the default assumption that an assistant must be female and subservient and sexy. Your user base is not all 14-year-old boys, so let’s move on from making those avatars.” 

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