Burriss: Anthropomorphic

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Remember when you were a kid and you talked to your teddy bear? But after a few years you outgrew childish things, like talking to inanimate objects . . . or did you?

I wonder how many of you, while watching sports on television, yell at the players when they make a mistake, or tell them to run faster. You know the players can't hear, don't you? So you really are sitting there talking to an inanimate object, your television set.

I was visiting a family the other day, and they had just acquired a personal assistant, actually a small cylinder that has a name. And everyone in the family called it by that name, and referred to it as "she," as in, "she can tell us the weather."

But these things are not a "he" or a "she." They are all an "it."

And here's where it gets even weirder: many people, it turns out, are afraid of insulting their electronic devices, or are afraid of making it upset. Researchers have found, for example, people actually say "please" and "thank you" to computers, and they treat a computer differently if it has a calm voice or an excited voice.

People tend to drive safer if their GPS has a female voice rather than a male voice.

Sometimes people actually bond to a computer. When subjects were given a test multiple times on one machine, they scored lower when moved to a different computer of the same make and model running the same evaluation program.

In other words, people respond to a box of plastic, wires and circuitry as if it were a person . . . a real person. And even scarier, the test subjects denied they were doing this sort of thing, even when video showed they actually were.

Uh oh, I think I need to stop here. My computer is telling me she's lonely and wants to talk.

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Larry Burriss
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