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Do androids dream of electric steeds? The allure of horse-computer interaction

North, S. (2016) Do Androids dream of electric steeds?: the allure of horse-computer interaction. interaction 23, 2 (February 2016), 50-53.

In this article North considers Horse Computer interaction, and what the designing systems for other species can teach us about unaware interactors in HCI. The paper considers the wider ecosystems of interactions with systems and what Law might consider as the messiness of research. The paper offer a wider understanding of interaction design, but also suffers the same problems as some HCI/ACI cross over work which considers ACI as a learning process for designers to consider non-typical users and draws problematic parallels between designing for (non-human) animals to designing for humans with non-standard physical or cognitive patterns or behaviours. This is not a unique view within the interaction design community, this paper states “I wonder, is this what we would wish for—“unaware interactors” that also happen to be human animals? For example: infants, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (and other forms of dementia), people with cognitive challenges, or those who may be on the autism spectrum? They may also be unaware of interactions with computers (and other technology), but, as with the horse, would we wish to simply ignore their opinions?”.The paper however offers an important contribution to the understanding of othering or non-human animals and considering them as a functional form of technological apparatus, which can be considered alongside some of the writing around the famed “Automatic Milking Machine” in ACI which considered the non-human as a design subject with agency, emotion and who’s species specific needs should be considered in the design process.

This paper offer’s an interesting approach to method which mixes “ethnographic and ethology-based approaches into a hybrid methodology we call ethographology”. This hybrid methodologies are important to consider new approaches to research and analysis of new forms of interaction, thinking past anthropocentric approaches to research. This ethographology could offer alternative approaches to formalic analysis of systems based on HCI and monitoring users using biometics or quantitative analysis. (see previous work)

Useful Quotes

“Our current anthropocentric bias denies the reality that human animals are just one species in the family of animals. Interaction environments are rarely limited to just the human species. Nonhuman animals at varying scales (including microbes, mosquitoes, and horses) influence many aspects of our culture, practice, and behavior.”

“Studying the horse expands ACI’s current focus on smaller companion-animal species (predators, such as cats and dogs) to include a larger, domesticated prey animal. The horse is a species that shares environments with human animals but does not (at least usually!) live in our houses.”

“I feel the allure of the horse not just because of any empathetic resonance. My study of them has helped me to understand our (collective human animal) responsibility to learn the nonverbal languages of all unaware interactors. We cannot expect the voiceless to inform us through unstructured surveys and purely qualitative methods. As interaction designers, I believe we have much to learn from the quantitative techniques of animal science.”

Further Reading

North, S., Hall, C., and Roshier, A. Multispecies ethographology: From ethnography to ethology via horses and video. International Journal of Human Computer Studies. Special issue on Animal Computer Interaction. (Submitted for publication).

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