..on treating machines like people

I just saw a blurb on huffington post that had Clifford Nass talking about what he usually talks about; treating machines like people. If you’re not familiar, go check out The Media Equation and his other books. Why an article about him in the mainstream media? I’m guessing it’s because he worked on the google glasses. Sidenote: it kind of sucks that you have to commercialize science to make people care.

Anyway, the article is mostly nothing new. What was new from him, at least for me is his concern with multitasking.

What concerns you most about the direction of current technologies?

Unquestionably my biggest concern is the dramatic growth of multitasking. We know the effects of multitasking are severe and chronic. I have kids and adults saying, “Sure, I multitask all the time, but when I really have to concentrate I don’t multitask.”

The research to shows that’s not quite true: when your brain multitasks all the time there are clear changes in the brain that make it virtually impossible for you to focus. If we’re breeding a world in which people chronically multitask that has very, very worrisome and serious effects on people’s brains. For adults it has effects on their cognitive or thinking abilities. For younger kids we’re seeing effects on their emotional development. That does scare the heck out of me.

I have the same concern, and actually wrote a paper about it last semester. By the time the paper was done I had kind of stopped caring about the issue because I’d blown it up into a deep mindmap and kept getting stuck on the issue of efficiency as a sole guiding force to interaction design development. My thought is that we need devices that use less of our attention, but I think the problem is really more human than machine. Given more unused attention, we’d probably still be trying to cram other tasks in there.

I guess I need to revisit this idea. How can we reduce the cognitive overhead of multitasking while still multitasking? A Nass-like solution seems ideal, since we have the ability to deal with multiple other humans. (ex: mother with a minivan full of kids) Surely though there is even a finite number of humans we can deal with at once.

I really don’t have a good answer. I’d love to hear other opinions.

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