Re: Anthropomorphism is bad because...

Subject: Re: Anthropomorphism is bad because...
From: Lauren <lauren -at- writeco -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 22 Jun 2010 21:06:51 -0700

On 6/22/2010 3:42 PM, Janice Gelb wrote:
> I have no problem with a system "waiting." I have a
> problem with implying that the system *knows* it's
> waiting ("expects," "anticipates"), tapping its
> foot impatiently, no doubt :->
>

I think of the terms "expect" and "anticipate" as implying that the
system may perform any number of processes in anticipation, er, of
waiting with requirements, of data. My email program "expects" me to
enter some text or characters in the email message window and then it
expects me to click send or close the window and abort the message.
While my program waits, it saves a draft of my message, which it
overwrites during subsequent saves. If I click "send" and I have not
entered text or characters in the message window, my email program will
display a message window that I need to enter something in the message
area or click, "OK," to send the message, anyway. There is an
expectation here.

There is also an expectation in more complex systems that will perform
more complicated processes in the event of bad data. Many systems
include complex data handling programs that check or sometimes repair
data for compliance with requirements. To say that a system "requires"
data does not encompass systems that perform processes without user or
administrator intervention. Requirements are a part of these systems,
but what about the automated processes that a failure to meet
requirements will trigger?

Strict avoidance of anthropomorphism tends to produce a language that
treats non-humans as things devoid of functions independent of human or
instinctive control. If I say that my dog expects a treat when I ask my
dog to perform a trick, then my dog *does* expect a treat. The
anti-anthropomorphist may say that the dog has been conditioned to
accept a treat after performing a trick. Now it is easier to say that
my computer, rather than my dog, does not "expect" certain data of a
certain type because my computer requires human control in order to
operate.

My computer, however, does perform certain functions without my
interaction, although somewhere a human programmed the applications that
control my computer. The problem here, I think, is that human language
lacks terms that can bridge the gap between the requirements of an
inanimate object to perform certain functions and the concert between
multiple applications and processes that give rise to the anticipatory
and expectant perception we have of computer systems. I think that, for
lack of computer-specific terms, we need to use terms that convey more
than what is conveyed by static anthropomorphistic terms. There are no
middle-ground, computer system-specific terms that are easily understood
by average computer users, so the terms "expect" and "anticipate" should
probably take on new meaning in the field of computer systems.

Lauren



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Follow-Ups:

References:
RE: Anthropomorphism is bad because...: From: Chris Despopoulos
Re: Anthropomorphism is bad because...: From: Janice Gelb

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