Sumit Dagar

Interaction Designer, National Institute of Design, India

This conversation is closed.

Should an interface have an emotional connect with a user?

..some fun, when you ride..

..some joy, when you understand..

..some connect, when you fall..

..some excitement, when you explore..

..some life, when you remember..

..some imagination, when you dream..

..some hope, when you loose..

..some charm, when you have a Scooter!



Cant say so, for the ubiquitous interfaces of the day.

As we get more and more advanced, the technology gets smarter and smarter (faster and increasingly interconnected). The face it presents starts to say "I am supersmart, I am trying to adjust to your comprehension level"... and not what it could have said "It's simple! try it! it will be fun!".

We have already being through alienation during industrialization that saw us getting increasingly lonely in a society. Is this the new alienation? Are we getting more and more disconnected with the machines we use everyday?

At some point of time, can we dream of "some charm", in the connect we have with devices we are spending our days with.

May be, may be not? may be worth exploring....

  • Jun 25 2011: If it gets angry, will it throw itself across the room?
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    Jul 7 2011: I just read a book called "The Man Who Lied to His Laptop" by Clifford Nass and the answer from his research would be a resounding "yes!" He describes many fascinating experiments in which the computer software responded with negative, neutral or positive emotional feedback and the human participants responded much differently on that basis. Apparently, we respond emotionally even when we are aware that the thing we are interacting with is a computer program. The implication is that conscious and deliberate design of the emotional impact of the human-computer interface has the potential to improve our experience with expert systems, voice response units, customer service portals and just about everything else where we must interact with automation.
  • Jul 7 2011: It depends on the purpose. I think it will have a negative effect if the goal is to profit.
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    Jun 27 2011: Sorry for not answering the comments individually in the interest of taking the debate forward. But thanks everyone, specially Atilla, for the thoughts. Its really good to understand so many perspectives.

    The apprehensions, specially about artificial emotions, are the first thing that comes to mind. Its gross to visualize a machine with emotions.

    But, can there be some positives as well?

    To take an actual example in a parallel field. Are the Khan Academy tutorials much more fun just because they talk to users (children) in their language or more because they are not as cold as others in their methods. A certain level of warmth has changed the way children react to being taught online.

    Again, its all very contextual. But would it be "cool" to have a bit more "warm" interactions.. or we need to reject the idea altogether...

    To think of it in terms of logic, computers (/machines) are actually built on logic, and if emotions follow logic they become fake. And thats what makes us grossed out about emotional machines?
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      Jun 29 2011: Sumit, I think we should not be talking about the machine as a standalone object that we interact with. We interact with a fellow human beings that has perpetuated their knowledge and care in the digital world much like great people in the past have perpetuated their knowledge, principles and care through oral tradition, cultures and the press.

      There is so much we can do in this area with the diversity of our soceity, psychology and different stages of our learning lives. All of this is now possible with our information tecnologies. We can for example first indentify our 'human configuration' - like age, culture (beliefs) and current concern, then we go to a machine that can fully interact with us (our senses) but with the great people talking to us through these machines.

      There is none better use of this technology than is today with our need to transform our world. We can actually do it now with our current techlogies, we just need to ignite more hearts and minds to help transform our world. http://Bit.Ly/ThePowerInfo
  • Jun 26 2011: Are you trying to manufacture a Human?
  • Jun 23 2011: Well, the key is to be able to build "emotional intelligence" using a computer logic! Its sounds "illogical" isn't it ? Not sure I trust the emotional intelligence of a computer programmer, no offence, what I mean is that someone who ends up spending lot of time in front of a computer which see the world through mainly via a portal, could well be lacking that capacity... I think you can still create emotinal connection with a device, like many iPad owners seems to have. It is not because there is an emotional interaction, but the device itself creates "satisfactory & stable" relationship, no way it is intrusive and you have to navigate thorugh another logic and interact/satisfy etc. Many married people could relate to this ;-) . Don't we all appreciate when everything just happens the way we want it ? For me, the interface must be adoptive without logic ever raising it heads and challenging / tuning the user,unless deliberatly get activated by its "owner" for some sort of simple tutorial - once off. After all, human (no matter how stupid) will always have the upper hand in a relationship with interface/device... So if you ever end up writing one - make sure that it feeds the human ego and that will be a winner. "Click here Great Guy, you are such an awesome", "oh yeah - that was excellent choice, woow I just couldn't guess that you wouldl want me to do that ! " "I am getting bored, come an use me!"... "Is this you on that picture? Amazing, who is that boy next to you ? I am jelaous :-)) "
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    Jun 23 2011: Two reactions:

    1. No
    2. Ewww.
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    Jun 8 2011: For certain applications an emotional aspect to the UI would be useful. Eg
    - Medical knowledge bases
    - Websites esp shopping, dating, gaming.
    - Educational tools.

    But for others it will be far simpler and more efficient for things to remain emotionless and merely functional. Eg, If i'm writing a computer program to operate some machinery then it will be a bit of a hinderence for it to either comment on my emotional state or appear to have an emotional state of its own.
    One excepton here could be if the OS could determine that you were not in a fit state to work on a particular job. eg you are too angry/upset/tired to think clearly on a critical task.
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    Jun 8 2011: SmelloVision

    They've been testing it in theatres for a longtime, just recently it's been a success,smell helps with memory recall which is layered with emotion.
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    Jun 8 2011: Sumit,
    I think,
    Whatever advanced technology we are in (Salute to the inventors): and we may,
    It will be having its development done on only one thread!
    And it is “Human consciousness”.
    It’s the Baton that the runner shouldn’t lose till he touches the finish line.
  • Jul 7 2011: In regards to alienation posts- my gut reaction is to share your fear of people becoming less connected due to computer use- this does not mean however affective computing will add to that problem -on the contrary it can be a force of good- an affective computer could read signs of loneliness and present the user with possibilites to connect with people either face to face in the real world or over the internet with people who feel the same.

    Also affective computing has potential for major applications for people with austism spectrum disorders-( social impairmaints which also lead to feelings of alienation), by recording and giving feedback on the interactions the user takes part in!

    i could talk about this all day but I've already taken up two posts so would just like to say anyone interested should look up: Queens university Belfast publications- they are leaders in this field or any papers by Proff Roddy Cowie or the humain/Semaine projects,

    happy computing :-)
  • Jul 7 2011: http://books.google.com/books?id=8NdT0_ImtcAC&pg=PA811&dq=piccard+emotional&hl=en&ei=_FIVTtXfOci2hAfNotBT&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&sqi=2&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

    See the above link for Piccards affective computing

    i've just recently finished a module on my psychology course about this very issue, the fact is that affective computing is happening already! (for anyone interested look up the humaine project- a massive multidisciplinary project which brought together a wide range of professionals attempting to develop a database of human of human emotion (multi-modalities) which could be used to train computer recognisers to percieve human emotion).

    Affective abilities is also necessary for almost all (i can't at the minute think of ANY exceptions) applications of computing- emotions are at the core of being "functional and logical/making decisions" (if we ignore the semantics and definitional issues of the label "emotion"), as seen in patients with frontal lobe damage! (See anything by neuroscientist Damasio).

    When I first heard I would be covering this topic in my emotion module I must admitt I wasn't enthused to say the least- even somewhat suspicious of the idea of a computer with emotion, but I was won over pretty quickly when I looked into the positives such as "machine helpers" for folks in dangerous jobs, emotional computers which can find tumours in scans ETC, based on the idea of the computer "feeling" something is wrong looking on the scan (perhaps close to Debra Smiths "intuitiveness" post".
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    Jul 5 2011: I don't think an interface could be emotional. Being rooted beyond our reasoning, it is impossible to engineer an emotive machine. We can create an interface that illicits emotion from its user. However, this interaction is one way. The user never causes the machine to feel. Without this two way interaction it is truly a non-emotive experience.
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    Jul 3 2011: if machines start too be emotional then they may lead to several problems in day to day life. as these emotions may lead to a wrong path too. emotions given to a machine may make them feel sad or happy on the task assigned to it. if it feels happy for the task its not a problem but if it feels sad then it may lead to several risks as not doing the assigned task , taking time while doing that, not properly doing and many. as we know that emotions have worse effect in life.
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    Jun 29 2011: Noted that TED has removed comments by a "Miss Sonia."

    Which were indeed disturbing. But I think they were an important example of damage even the most ethically conceived emotional interfaces can create.

    To explain. A poster by the name of "Miss Sonia" posted a comment that appeared to be a romantic come-on. She used words like "I found you on Google and know we have a connection that goes beyond the boundaries of time and distance. I'll send you my photos, as soon as you email me." Included was an apparent email address.

    Her post, whether it was a prank or not, (and I dearly hope it was) should highlight a quite serious repercussion of emotional interfaces. And I suspect it is quite representative of sinister behaviors that already proliferate the internet without creating more technologies to promote them.

    It Is a bracing example of the lasting damage even one innocent seeming emotional interface could do. Had a child or vulnerable adult (or, forgive me, even a lonely politician) somewhere read a comment like this, it is entirely possible some might send an email that could crash their hard-drive if not set off some other chain of far worse events for themselves and others.

    This goes well beyond my initial reaction of Ewww. Sadly, I and anyone else who witnessed Miss Sonia's post, have evidence that proves my point.

    As a parent, I ask technologists to take heed of unintended consequences emotional interfaces have.

    Andrea
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      Jul 4 2011: Andrea, I think that if you Google the concept of computer interfaces, it has a distinct meaning that is more specific than your interpretation. It is an easy mistake to make. (I flagged many of Miss Sonia's postings as spam too and find it inappropriate as well but that is not what is being discussed here.)

      * user interface - the keyboard, mouse, menus of a computer system. The user interface allows the user to communicate with the operating system. Also see GUI.
      * software interface - the languages and codes that the applications use to communicate with each other and with the hardware.
      * hardware interface - the wires, plugs and sockets that hardware devices use to communicate with each other.

      For more information you might also look up Human Factors. There is a whole field of study devoted to these concepts.
      • Jul 5 2011: Hi Debra. Both you and Andrea have fair points. But as I see it, the software code is that which will give the emotional interface and how it does it will depends on the whim of the programmers ultimate goal for good or evil to put it bluntly. Emotional interfaces no doubt in the future will have application in the medical/social area eg: psychology/ psychiatry - which to my understanding most rich americans have as must instead of talking things over with a friend. :) - I understand they are called 'shrinks', I would say 'trick cyclists' ...
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      Jun 29 2011: So...

      The good news is Miss Sonia didn't solicit "Nice to Meet You"s" photos, only "Nice to Meet You""s feelings as condition for obtaining her love.

      If I might be so bold as to offer advice to Miss Sonia's would-be lovers: this might be one of those emotional interfaces you'd be wise to engage prophylactic barriers with.

      And, if I may restate my initial comment to this conversation: Ewww.

      Andrea
  • Jun 26 2011: I guess you are looking at just one side of the coin, which is an error in judgement especially with this coin having many faces..

    The focus for Industrialization was increased productivity and revenue generation and hardly focused on design or usability criteria.. However, as people got accustomed to the main focus, people looked at optimization in design - aesthetics, usability, operational efficiency and so on.. Significant changes were made in the design to improve a worker's experience..

    In a different world altogether - a world of games and simulation there has been significant improvements in HC/MI (Human Computer/Machine Interface).. The focus has been on creating an experience for the user while keeping him addicted to the application/simulation. Innovation in the design and experience to make the system reward at random and unexpected situations, keeping up the morale of the user while constantly tracking his progress and giving him a feedback for improvements, fun & excitement during the learning stages, increasing complexity levels based on the user's progress and so on..

    Innovative companies like BP is investing Millions (if not Billions) in creating a more engaging learning experiences for the production engineers in their training stages on a virtual platform (it still would take many more decades before such an engaging experience could be created in an actual production site). I am quite proud of being involved with similar such projects at EON Reality.

    More insights on this project with BP can be found here: http://www.eonreality.com/references_casestudy-bp.html
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    Jun 22 2011: I feel as though we are edging towards the emotion-eliciting UIs Sumit refers to. If we were to look simply at operating systems through time, human-machine interaction is becoming more and more interconnected and intimate. I, however, disagree with this change. The more we rely on technology to replace humans, the more we will isolate and alienate ourselves from real social interaction. We will be reduced to a society of machines and artificial intelligence, and everything will seem mechanical and predictable. To fully capitalize on emotional responses, a capricious disposition is necessary and machines should not be able to recreate the human unpredictability that makes emotional responses poignant and significant.

    It will definitely be 'cool', but I feel as though we don't need machines to recognize, evaluate and analyze human emotion, we have humans for that :P
  • Jun 22 2011: We will always have an emotional connect with an interface. The quesion is what that emotion will be. That is dependent on the skill of the designer and the purpose of the interface. There are times that we need to encourage users to spend time interacting with the interface in order to affect the user's attitude in a particular direction. That interface will be different from one designed to elicit specific information in the shortest possible time in order to free up bandwidth.
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    Jun 22 2011: if we can have an emotional relationship with a device, the interface of that device would have to be designed in such a way as to make the user somewhat vulnerable... otherwise, it doesn't really touch on the benefits of accessing the user's emotions... this is important because if devices could make people more emotional, throughout their day, let's say, then that could somehow play into the hot topic of decision priming... like if you're on your device, and it somehow made you happy in a way a person would.... that would affect a meeting taking place just after.... what if you could have a device that is meant to trigger emotional responses specifically. then you could have a digital interface that ties into the psychological sector... now you're talking...
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    Jun 22 2011: Say we juxtapose human - machine interaction with a few others like possibly human - nature interaction, human - animals interaction, we get a few dissimilar categories that mainly covers the interactions we have (apart from human-human obviously).

    Not that we care about each and every random tree on a street, or a street dog, or possibly any other object... but we do get a sense of connect and a possible set of emotions when we have to interact with these entities. We might get angry, sad, happy or apathetic amongst a lot of other reactions, but theres a set of these emotions. And if these interactions happen repeatedly with a particular entity, it starts to become a relationship.

    Is it so in case of human - machine scenarios as well? The set of emotions are lesser in these scenarios, and hence the relationship is more transient. And hence the alienation creeps in?

    Questions about efficiency, contextual application and others are very well placed. But, the field itself seems to be so less explored that there's a lot of speculation in all thats being said, including my own posts as well.
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    Jun 20 2011: Emotion of an individual varies with time.mood.location and overall situation..unless the interface has capability to adapt to the above everytime its not going to work.may be some kind of context aware interface..but how do we determine mood????
  • Jun 18 2011: If we want it we will make it. If we want our machines to care, they will. We will not appreciate them as much but it might be better than nothing. Machines that care and feel will either become our salvation or our ruin. Take your pick.
    • Jun 18 2011: Machines may have the perception of caring but in my view they will never care, you need freewill to care. Their creator can "care" through them though.
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      Jun 18 2011: Care...Look at google search results, what does google know what I do not know so I have different search results than my brother? I should just trust the machine it cares for me as it tries to understand me?

      Care...Elmo on the iPad teaches my son the alphabet faster than I can. He has visual examples, repeats himself all the time etc. Elmo takes care of my son his development when I am at work... ;)
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        Jul 5 2011: The machine itself does not harbor the idea of compassion or care. The applications design is adjusted to facilitate the responses you would expect from it. Interpreting emotion from function is like implying the DMV clerk is concerned about your necessity to drive.
  • Jun 16 2011: Interfaces determine behavior. Behavior determines how we relate to other people. I believe that all interfaces already do have "an emotional connect" with the user; I think what you're articulating is a desire to have a more interpersonal relationship between human and machine.

    I agree with that as a goal. I say "hell yeah, let's make it happen." And I do it in everything I work on.

    We should take the perspective that humans and interactive technology now, for lack of a better term, co-evolve. While we have all the aspiration, the technology itself can be devised to, at the very least, categorize, index and assign certain types of interpersonal human-machine transactions; by design or by dynamic contextual awareness.
  • Jun 9 2011: Great topic Sumit, and one I think of quite often in my line of work. Interfaces are becoming of greater and greater importance to us as we continue to communicate and experience life digitally. One area of interface design I am challenged in is how much of the familiar do you expose the user to vs. the new and potentially better. Facebook balances this with each major update. For the most part I have found that people tend to not like the changes. They have to work to find things that have been moved to accommodate new features. It's a matter of perspective. Facebook is in a unique position where they can afford to teach and guide their users without too great of a worry of rejection.

    Regarding the emotional connection, I agree with the others, I think there is a place for both. Some application you do not want an intense emotional response. So much of this is theoretical and will depend a great deal on the context.
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    Jun 9 2011: We need an eye to use an IPhone and eye is the gateway of emotion,
    yes it does have.
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    Jun 8 2011: I think that the most important thing that an interface can have is a sort of 'intuitiveness'.
    That requres learning and thinking about the people who will use it.
    We then can get an emotional attachment or relationship from things that 'just fit' or are 'just right'.
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    Jun 8 2011: Good question about industrialization and alienation. Yes, a UI should have an emotional connection with the user, and most UIs today do not. The real problem is that every UI element evokes an emotional response -- even if it's coldness and disaffectedness. (Take the Gmail UI for a random example -- it's useful but soulless.) And people are becoming fine with that.

    It doesn't have to be that way though -- something like boutiques.com or gilt.com appeals more to a user's emotional side. But very few Web designers seem capable of emotive design.
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      Jun 20 2011: I agree with Luke's points above but that is exactly why there is the field of Human Factors as it pertains to UIs.
      Web designers do not have to rely on skills that they themselves may not have developed (no one is good at everything) but they can reach out to people who know about such things. For a start read Donald Norman's book 'The Psychology of Everyday things' or see his TED talk which was excellent.

      http://www.ted.com/talks/don_norman_on_design_and_emotion.html

      If nothing else, his name will give you a great start on a literature search for even more current researchers in the field.