Karen, Your New Life Coach App, Might Be A Little Too Friendly

An "unsettling experience."

Imagine having a life coach by your side, all day, all night. Imagine having a life coach in your pocket. 

It's possible, thanks to Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj and their British art group Blast Theory — a group that uses interactive art to explore different aspects of digital technology, and how it positively or negatively affects people's lives. 

Recently, the group developed a life coach app called Karen. The group's site describes Karen as a friendly life coach. Too friendly. 

Furthermore, The New York Times says the experience with the app leaves "users feeling distinctly uncomfortable."


"It's always interesting to work at the boundary of something we're very drawn to and very unnerved by at the same time," Adams tells NY Times writer Frank Rose.

In the app, users are given a series of questions or statements, and are prompted to respond.

For example, users are given a statement like: "A white lie is often a good thing," and then asked if they strongly agree or disagree. 

Throughout the process, the app ("part story, part game") begins to learn about its user, and "She develops a kind of friend crush... And over the next 10 days or so, she feeds back to you things she's learning about you — including some things you're not quite sure how she knows or why," Adams tells Rose.

In "Smart Stories: Matt Adams," a film for Future of StoryTelling, Adams says that his company analyzes how technology will affect the future of culture and storytelling. 

He explains that while you interact with Karen, the app works by using psychological tests to build knowledge, understand users on a deeper level and adapt the overall story. 

"And at the same time, critique and expose some of those systems and approaches," he adds in the video.

So, what will Karen find out about you?

If you wish to engage on a deeper level, the question it aims to provoke is somewhat subtler: Where do we draw the line between our devices and ourselves? Karen posits a future in which the definition of what's human has grown fuzzy, not because some mad scientist has created a race of humanoid robots, but because we all want a buddy in our pocket that acts as if it knows us. Or at least, we think we do. - Rose, NY Times 

Well, I decided to try it out for myself.

The first scene (above) puts me face-to-face with Karen, a woman with wispy brunette bangs, an oversized jacket, and an extremely friendly smile.

"Oh great! I've been expecting you!" Karen says as the story begins.

Next, I'm walking around town with my new life coach, getting an up-close-and-personal look at both her and the environment. 

I feel like I'm right there with her. She tries to catch her breath walking up the steps; I feel that exhaustion. She sits down in her apartment (office?); I take a seat.

Then, first question: "So! I am knackered. How are you?" 

My choices: Me too or I'm quite excited actually or This feels weird. 

I choose: This feels weird (because, honestly, it does). 

And she understands. Of course, "How often do you get to open up to a 100% stranger?"

She sits there, sipping a soda. 

Then, my episode ends, and my next session will be available in about an hour.

Overall: I'm intrigued.

Watch a message from Karen below:

Watch 'Smart Stories: Matt Adams' below:

(H/T: The New York Times)

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