Anthropomorphisation

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I was watching this digger at work whilst waiting for the train one day. Its movements were intriguing – digging, scraping, lifting, scooping, and levelling piles of rubble. As it switched tasks, it was deftly swapping its scoop attachment for others. To reposition itself in a tight corner, where its turning circle was too large, it even used its arm as a crutch to manoeuvre its body.

As I watched, I could sense the human inside. The machine is a transparent extension of the operator – that much is obvious. How else can we account for the “humanness” of its movements? The slight hesitation here, the pause for a “breather” there…

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The digger reminded me of images of industrial robots – the multi-jointed arms, and the incredible precision and dexterity. And again that at once foreign but strangely familiar human quality. Perhaps a machine will always retain some intangible quality of its makers, their spirit perhaps.

Of course, this topic is well familiar to aficionados of Japanese mange and anime. The Japanese fascination with humanoid or anthropomorphised technology is well known.

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The anthropomorphisation of what we make subtlety permeates our lives. When Apple debuted the Macintosh LC in 1990, many design magazines pointed out how its “kneeling” posture helped endear it to users.

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More recently, New Scientist had a story on an LCD monitor/robot that could reflect a PC user’s moods. It could change its posture in response to the user’s posture.

This is all in aid of enabling us to engage more directly and personally with the technology we build. And in turn reap the benefit of greater productivity, efficiency and possibly even an increase in te innate satisfaction from the work we do.




We react positively to “humanised” technology. Indeed our need to anthropomorphise the objects we make (in addition to the pets and the plants we have in our lives) seem an innate part of our nature.

So why is it that businesses continue to try and remove the humanity in their interactions with their customers? Why are still putting up with “it’s just business” as an excuse for inhumane and bad behaviour?

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