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By (February 8, 2009) ()

Technovelgy is a website that aggregates a number of ‘science fiction’ inventions found in literary and media sources. Upon reading a few dozen excerpts on the site, I chose three that I felt related to the topics that we’ve talked about in class and that touch on some of the themes that I strive to achieve in my own work.

The first invention, entitled ‘Compassion Circuit’ (1954), explores the idea of using a robotic component to allow a robot to weigh harm and benefit when carrying out commands. This type of interaction is implemented in many devices that we use today, though the intention of the robot is often pre-programmed. For instance, Lockton shows us how a microwave oven will not operate until the door has been closed. While the microwave oven knows nothing of the harm that could be deployed when operating the oven if the door is open, the engineers who have designed the device are acting as ‘the compassionate robot’. In this case, the persuasive technologies utilized enforce safety by implementing a mechanism to ensure that users are not harmed (and manufactures are not sued).

Another invention on the site is an ‘Air-Propelled Train’  (1953) that is meant to provide a silent mass transit experience. In short, it operates like a sailboat in a tube filled with air. Anyone who frequently rides the NYC subway system knows the cacophony of the squealing subway. It’s a noise that is impossible to tune out. In fact, new riders often wonder if something is wrong with the train when the squealing begins. A silent subway system would allow passengers to speak to one another more easily.  In my own work, I often try to make the user experience as transparent as possible by mitigating obstructions and preventing ‘loud squealing noises’ from happening.

The last invention that I explored was entitled, ‘Prethink’, the ability to predict the future in a routine perceptual manner. The website suggests: “He can look ahead. See what’s coming. He can – prethink. Let’s call it that. He can see into the future. Probably he doesn’t perceive it as the future.” Predictions often correlate with our expectations. I predict that I will graduate from ITP next year. In a sense, I have a relatively clear vision of the future. I understand where I have been, where am I now and where I am going. Persuasive technologies capitalize on manipulating user expectations to predict the types of products that consumers will need in the future. I never knew that I needed an I-phone until Apple showed me the types of activities that I’d be engaged in using their device.

February 8, 2009

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