Monday, September 28, 2009

Computers are Social Actors: A Review of Current Research

How do people respond to the computer socially? Will people respond to the computer or other communication technology as they do to other people? Will people behave politely to the computer? Will people like that computer showing similar personality to them? Will people like to see a flattering word or sentence from a computer? Will people apply gender stereotypes to computers? Is people’s social response to a computer toward a programmer behind the computer, or is the response toward the computer itself?

This article, “Computers are Social Actors: A Review of Current Research”, is about the experiment to find out the answer for the questions above. Through five experiments, the authors confirm their hypothesis. So, the authors found out that “people apply social rules to computers even in situations in which they state that such responses are wholly appropriate”.

When people interact with an object, their response and behavior is determined by what the object is and the characteristics that the object shows. For example, people tend to treat an object that looks similar to a human, such as a human-like Robot or doll, more like a human. Also, the reason why some people like a robot pet would be that the robot pet makes a sound similar to a dog and that it behaves similar to a dog, so these characteristics of the robot pet help people think that they are pets. However, how to perceive and interact with an object depends on how people regard the object and how they situate the object in the context of their life. Even though interacting with an object is in the social context, the interaction is basically based on each Individual’s recognition and feeling to the object.

Some people would think flower pots are their friends; some people would think their cars are their lovers. I think, maybe, for some people or for many, the computer could be the closest friend. I think this is a kind of emotional response to the computer. When thinking about and designing HCI, we have to consider every aspect which affects the interaction between human and machine. So, I think the emotional part of the interaction is also very important.

Thinking of this, I thought what is the meaning of my computer for me? I was very sad and cried when my first laptop was broken. It was very similar feeling to when my rabbit died. My laptop sent me all news, good and bad, it helped me ease my sadness by singing a song and telling me a funny joke when I broke up with my boyfriend, it helped me get a good grade in school, and it was with me when I was extremely nervous at my first conference presentation. I was emotionally bonded with my labtop, and I responded very emotionally to it even though I knew “such responses are wholly inappropriate”. So I thought it would be interesting to think about emotionally attractive interface design or an interface that draws out more emotional response from people. Not just friendly interface, an interface that can be a real friend of people. This approach could be useful for designing an interface for children.

Another thought is, ultimately, with whom do we interact when we interact with computers. It would depend on what kind of work we do with computers. When a computer programmer works at making software with software language, it would be more like interacting with the computer itself. But in most cases, we would interact with other people through computers. So, if it is a communication tool between people, they would want to directly feel the other people that they interact with rather than feel computer interface. Personally, I prefer computer interface to be concealed as much as possible when working with it. However, in some ways, the authors of the article consider how to expose computer and its interface. I think before trying to think a way to design a socially well-responding computer interface, we might have to think what people really want to feel from interface, a well designed computer interface or their friends who are interacting directly without recognizing interface.

Finally, I like the article in that the authors think that the machine is not just a machine, and sometimes it can have more meaning than just as an useful machine. However, I doubt a few ideas. Especially, their emphasis on the effectiveness of word-based interface looks to be a little bit on the wrong track. And also, I think the less feedback from a computer there is, the better it is. People would want feedback from a computer when it is essentially necessary. The error message is essential. If we can, it would be good to use a comment as nicely as possible. However, I don’t think we need to try to add positive feedback to the system.

Byul Shin

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