The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What We Can Learn About Ourselves from Our Machines - Clifford Nass, Corina Yen

The (natural?) urge to murder those automated voices is what this book is all about.

By the way, if you swear at them, or repeatedly say, "I WANT TO TALK TO A HUMAN," they usually put you through to a person.  Eventually.


~~Moved from GR~~


The Man Who Lied to His Laptop

by Clifford Nass


This book provides an entertaining peek at the intersection of technology, sociology, and psychology. It discusses various experiments which indicate how people anthropomorphize inanimate technology and how this tendency can be used to reduce confounding variables and better understand human behaviour. It wasn't quite what I had expected: given the title and blurb, I had thought that the book would focus more on the mathematics and technology than the sociology. Instead, I found that the book instead discussed how technology could be used to improve sociological experiments and how these experiments, in turn, could be used to improve interfaces for human and computer interaction.

I found the writing itself somewhat problematic. I thought that Nass's ego tended to get in the way of the story-telling. Basically every successful experiment discussed was Nass's, and he is quick to point out how he solved issues that had been plaguing other "lesser" scientists for years.At some point, I started to count how many times the phrases "I solved," "I discovered," "I showed," etc, popped up, but I quickly lost count. In addition, the layout of idea/anecdote-experiment-conclusion-reaction became somewhat repetitive. However, one benefit of this format and dearth of overall narrative structure is that if a reader was only interested in particular areas, it would be easy to skip to those sections.

The ideas ranged from the painfully obvious to the surprisingly unintuitive. One of my favourite examples was Nass's discussion of how he had been brought in as a consult for Microsoft about the disaster that was "Mr. Clippy, the Animated Assistant." I remember Mr. Clippy. The first advanced setting I learned in Word was how to turn the darned thing off. Nass's advice, backed up by experiments, was to make Mr. Clippy apologize to the user for being stupid (thereby flattering the user's ego) and berate himself and Microsoft whenever he made mistakes. For some reason, Microsoft wasn't exactly happy with this...can't imagine why...and didn't implement the suggestion, leaving us with the Mr Clippy we all know and love.

Overall, definitely an interesting read from a renowned scientist.