>The Humanization of Computers

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The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed (Sept. 10, 2010) “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop,” by Clifford Nass.

The book examines human-computer interactions in order to “teach us about human relationships.”

The reviewer, David Robinson, sums up with a question about computers (and relationships): “do we really think it’s just a machine?”

Answer: “A new field of research says no. The CASA paradigm-short for ‘computers as social actors’—takes its starting point the observation that although we deny that we interact with a computer as we would with a human being, many of us actually do.”

The book review sums up human-computer interaction, as follows:

Our brains can’t fundamentally distinguish between interacting with people and interacting with devices. We will ‘protect’ a computer’s feelings, feel flattered by a brown-nosing piece of software, and even do favors for technology that has been “nice” to us. All without even realizing it.”

Some interesting examples of how we treat computers like people:

Having a heart for your computer: People in studies giving feedback on computer software have shown themselves to “be afraid to offend the machine” if they are using their own computers for the evaluation rather than a separate ‘evaluation computer.’

Sexualizing your computer: People sexualize computer voices lauding a male sounding tutor voice as better at teaching ‘technical subjects,’ and a female sounding voice as better at teaching ‘love and relationship’ material.

A little empathy from your computer goes a long way: People are more forthcoming in typing messages about their own mistakes “if the computer first ‘apologizes’ for crashing so often.”

It seems to me that attributing human attributes (feelings, sexuality, and camaraderie) to an inanimate object like a computer is a social ill that we should all be concerned about.

Sure, we all spend a lot of time going back and forth between our physical realities, virtual realities, and now augmented realities, but in the process we seem to be losing perspective of what is real and what is not.

Perhaps to too many people, their computers have become their best friends, closest allies, and likely the biggest time hog of everything they do. They are:

Doing their work at arms length from computers rather than seriously working together with other people to solve large and complex problems facing us all.

Interacting virtually on social networks rather than with friends in real life, and similarly gaming online rather than meeting at the ballpark for some swings at the bat.

Blogging and tweeting their thoughts and feelings on their keyboards and screens, rather than with loved ones who care and really want to share.

We have taken shelter behind our computers and to some extent are in love with our computers—both of these are hugely problematic. Computers are tools and not hideaways or surrogate lovers!

Of course, the risk of treating computers as people is that we in turn treat people as inanimate computers—or maybe we already have?

This is a dangerous game of mistaken reality we are playing.

[Photo Source: http://www.wilsoninfo.com/computerclipart.shtml]

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