Katie Couric on smartphone addiction, ‘freaky’ sex robots

Katie Couric has some concerns about the way people are using technology. It’s “making us less reliant on true human connection,” the legendary news anchor told TechCrunch during the “South by Southwest” festival in Austin, Tex.

Couric had appeared at the event Monday to share her views on tech and culture, something she addresses in her own, upcoming, “America Inside Out” documentary series on National Geographic, wherein she reports on a spectrum of transformational issues impacting the country.

For the project, for example, she explored smartphone addiction and “learned about how much anxiety it produces.” She also realized the extent to which “we don’t even know what’s happening to our brains” after diving into the issue with researchers.

She further told us of her frustration by the “companies that exploit this attention economy,” referencing some common gripes about Twitter and Facebook, all of which have been accused of going too far to increase the amount of time that people spend on their platforms. They “purposely and perhaps irresponsibly get us to go down the rabbit hole of information.”

Couric explained that she isn’t concerned about the technology in our hands alone. In the series, she also explores the age-old question of whether robots will eventually take our jobs, concluding that automation will likely “dramatically change the world of work and probably our economy.” She even visited a sex robot factory in San Diego to gauge whether these machines could someday replace human lovers. They were “freaky,” she said. “It’s just very, very strange,” but also “fascinating.”

Couric says that the goal of the docu-series is to send America “a bit of a wake-up call” and remind people that “they may want to limit their use of technology.” However, she wants to make it clear that she’s not a Luddite and appreciates a lot of the ways that innovation has benefited society. “There are a lot of positives.”

Couric is active on social media and also has a podcast, which she describes as a “fun, intimate medium.” However, don’t expect her to work for a tech company like Yahoo again (now a sister company of TechCrunch). In her view, they don’t necessarily understand high-quality journalism or how to support it.

Said Couric — who joined Yahoo in 2014 at the invitation of then-CEO Marissa Mayer but has publicly joked since that working for the company was akin to being part of the “witness protection program” — “My mission and their mission were not necessarily aligned.”