Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle is the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self.

From a Q & A at Time magazine about her new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other:

Alone Together concludes a trilogy of books that started with your exploration of the very first computer programs. Now, 26 years later, we have this giant soup of communication methods. How has that changed our relationship to technology?

It took a while for things to evolve to show [just] where we were vulnerable. This changed dramatically with mobile communication. Who would have known that a little red light on the BlackBerry — that doesn't even say who a message is from, but simply that you have a message — would drive people crazy? So [crazy] that if their baby is in the car next to them, and they know they can't text and drive, they will [still fiddle] with the steering wheel at 65 miles an hour in order to know who sent that message.

You start the book off with observations from watching people interact with some artificial intelligence that isn't quite mainstream yet: caretaking robots, robot pets and even robots meant for sex. How do robots relate to digital communication, to that flashing BlackBerry light?

The reason that I put the robot part first, even though it hasn't really arrived yet, is that with robots, there's this new diction of "alive enough." This generation of kids has something very specific in mind when they say that things are alive enough: "[The robot] is alive enough to be a friend — it's alive enough to do X with me." They're willing to move the whole discussion of what it means to be alive off of the philosophical terrain and onto the pragmatic terrain, where things become alive only for various purposes.

I've been watching children [interact with robots] for 30 years, and this is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue