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Animal-Computer Interaction: A Manifesto

Mancini, C. (2011). Animal-Computer Interaction: a Manifesto. ACM Interactions, 18(4), pp.69-73

Mancini’s manifesto has become an often cited document in Animal-Computer Interaction (ACI) studies and a founding document in the nascent field of inter-species design. The position paper situates ACI in a longer research history of research, locating computer interaction in a discourse of systems and technological interaction, drawing on the conditioning work of Skinner in the 1930s, and relationships between animals and man-made systems. The study acknowledges the effect that these interactions with technological systems has had on behaviour and cites as an example automatic miking systems where cows are able to initiate the process without human intervention.

The manifesto focuses on the functional, industrial and utility arguments to underpin the importance of the discipline but hints at the ability of the research to impact on the mirrored discourses in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). The paper notes the importance of tangible, embodied, ubiquitous and haptic computer interfaces in the development of the discipline, to extend the interactions based geo-locative tracking and anthropocentric design.

The paper outlines a core set of research ethics which foregrounds the importance of voluntary interaction and the animal as independent agent in the research. The paper proposes that ACI could also help to extend the discipline of HCI opening up new design methodologies for differently-able bodies, both cognitively and physically impaired*. This alludes to the possibility of ACI as speculative or philosophical design rather than a grounded design practice, but Mancini tries to map a user-centred design practice for ACI (acknowledging the difficulties that this my pose).

Useful quotes

“In spite of its history, the study of the interactions between animals and computing technology has never entered mainstream computer science, and the animal perspective has seldom informed the design of animal computing applications, whose development has so far been driven by academic disciplines other than computer science or by other industrial sectors. The design of these technologies remains fundamentally human centered, and the study of how they are adopted by or affect their users remains fundamentally outside the remit of usercomputer interaction research.” (p. 69)

“From long-held training experiences, we know that several species can use interactive devices of one kind or another, sometimes appropriating them in interesting and unexpected ways. More generally, though, we now know that many species have sensory faculties superior to ours , possess sophisticated cognitive abilities, engage in advanced problem solving, use purpose-built tools for complex tasks , communicate through articulated languages, experience a range of emotions, form complex social relationships, make moral judgements , and hand down cultures through generations . This has progressively made us more aware of the similarities between humans and other species, more appreciative of other species, and more attentive toward the significance of our relationships with them and the fragile environment we all share.” (p. 70)

“ACI could expand the horizon of user-computer interaction research by pushing our imagination beyond the boundaries of human-computer interaction […] perhaps shedding new light on issues such as identity, privacy, or trust, and contributing to our understanding of what it means to be human and who we are in relation to other species” (p 72)

Further Reading

McGrath, R.E. (2009) Species-appropriate computer mediated interaction. Proc. of the 27th International Conference, Human Factors in Computing Systems (Boston, MA, April 4-9). ACM, New York.

Noz, F. and An, J. (2011) Cat cat revolution: An interspecies gaming experience. Proc. of the 29th International Conference, Human Factors in Computing Systems (Vancouver, BC, CA, May 7-12). ACM, New York.

Hurn, S. (2011) Humans and Other Animals: CrossCultural Perspectives on Human-Animal Interactions. Anthropology, Culture and Society. Pluto Press, London



*There is possibly something problematic in comparing handicapped bodies to animal bodies which is implied but not explicit on page 72 when Mancini states ” it could help us discover new ways of eliciting requirements from those who cannot communicate with us through natural language or abstract concepts. It could help us explore new modes of interaction for those who do not have hands, cannot decipher the patterns emitted by a screen, or have limited attention spans.” This is a possible bi-product of the disciplines understanding of Humans as Animals but the categorising is possibly a little suspect.

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