I wrote a few weeks ago about a question of designing for smart connected things beyond the screen. A post inspired by a suggestion by Ben Bashford that there is a role for considering emotion, personality and behaviour in connected things.

I’ve been playing with the question for a few weeks. Donald Norman suggests that; ‘As machines start to take over more and more, however they need to be socialised; they need to improve the way they communicate and interact and to recognise their limitations’. (Norman)

The idea of socialising technology is interesting; a technology acquiring norms, values and ideologies from the environment and persons it functions with. Think of nurturing a ‘baby connected thing’.

It is worth remembering however that ‘As we start giving the objects around us more initiative, more intelligence and more emotion and personality, we now have to worry about how we interact with our machines.’ (Norman)

Socialising connected things must be a two way conversation, a dialogue supplemented with contextual information, experiences, culture and shared knowledge. This is difficult on many levels, in as difficult as it is for two humans to understand and live with each other the task is increasingly more complex when they are different species. Which ‘things’ and humans are.

Because ‘machines have fundimental limitations: they do not sense the world in the same way as people, they lack higher order goals, and they have no way of understanding the goals and motives of the people with whom they must interact’. (Norman)

I noted before that though I was amused by the Ikea chairs, I would be angry at this type of behaviour from a chair. But if the chair obeyed my commands, or learned to adapt to my less than logical behaviour as a human, then perhaps, just perhaps we could learn to live together. (Obviously the chair is opportunistic…)

This is where suggestions such as BASAAP (Be as smart as a puppy) become valid. Because ‘…a technology that gives no opportunity for discussion, explanation, or debate is a poor technology.’ (Norman) But technologies that don’t try to be too smart and fail, and indeed, by design, make endearing failures in their attempts to learn and improve. Like puppies.’ (Jones)

So, the idea of introducing somewhat animalistic, humaniod or otherwise animate behaviour to technology, be this through personality or emotion is considered valid when it comes to building and sustaining relationships with complex connected things.  Avoiding, of course, the uncanny.

I’m wondering too, around the Mujicomp debate, I suspect I would  be more likely to respect, trust and forgive a design classic, quietly and unassumingly working in the corner, so long as it could communicate and understand. Rather  than a puppy, that has accidents occasionally. But perhaps that’s just me. So how do we design for smart, connected things beyond the screen?

(see next blog posts)


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