Skip to content

Animal-Computer Interaction (ACI): changing perspective on HCI, participation and sustainability

Mancini, Clara (2013). Animal-Computer Interaction (ACI): changing perspective on HCI, participation and sustainability. In: CHI 2013, 27 April-02 May 2013, Paris, pp. 2227–2236.

This proposition paper by Mancini argues for the inclusion of Animal-Computer Interaction into the field of Human-Computer Interaction. Mancini gives a chronological overview of ACI drawing on some key papers and research projects to argue that, as humans are a form of animal, then HCI forms part of a larger field of ACI. Mancini makes distinctions between what she terms “Animal Technology” and “Animal-Computer Interaction” (quoted below) and gives a range of research methodologies which are to a greater or lesser degree inclusive of animals in the design process. Mancini’s focus is on the usefulness of ACI, and in this focus she makes some claims which might stretch the focus and scope of ACI (in particular it’s usefulness in working with the cognitively impaired humans”) there is a tendency in trying to work towards inclusive design practices that to dehumanise the disabled, vulnerable or young which is uncomfortable (or maybe i am too anthropocentric). Mancini also alludes to the usefulness of ACI in reflecting on HCI practices drawing on the work of McGrath (summarised earlier in this blog). Mancini on page 5 outlines the main concerns of ACI as a discipline also outlined in her Manifesto for Interactions (summerised elsewhere in this blog) as the;

  • studying the interaction between animals and technology in naturalistic settings (e.g. use of voluntary robotic milking systems in farms, operant chambers in research laboratories, interactive toys in homes)
  • developing user-centered technology that can a) improve animals’ lives by supporting the fulfillment of their needs (e.g. healthy feeding systems for pets), b) support animals in the tasks humans ask of them (e.g. domestic interfaces for service dogs), c) foster interspecies relationships (e.g. human-animal interfaces for remote interaction)
  •  informing a user-centered approach to the design of technology intended for animal use, by systematically exploring, adapting and evaluating theoretical and methodological frameworks and protocols derived from both HCI and animal science.

Mancini reviews a number of studies and her reflections in the consideration of animals inclusion in the process of design, as a subject, are important considerations for ACI. There is an emphasis on how the animal is given agency and voluntary participation in the study, which has been addressed by a number of researchers as an important ethical concern.

Useful Quotes

“interaction design research on nonhuman computing systems and interfaces has tended to focus more on developing or analyzing novel animal technology than on establishing systematic theoretical and methodological connections between animal-computer interaction as a discipline, on the one hand, and the HCI tradition and agenda, on the other hand.” (p. 2)

“By animal technology I mean any technology intended for animals, whose development is not necessarily led by user-centered design principles. While such technology may have to make concessions to the animal’s physiological and psychological characteristics, there is an underlying expectation that the animal will adapt to the technology rather than the other way around. ” (p. 2)

“By AnimalComputer Interaction I mean the explicit and systematic application of design principles that place the animal at the center of an iterative development process as a legitimate user and design contributor.” (p. 2)

“[Resener]  develops the concept of asymmetrical human-canine interfaces, where the interaction is enabled at each end in a species-specific way; and proposes the use of species-specific forms of ritualized interaction […]  He discounts the use of cooperative approaches, on the grounds that, since animals cannot express themselves verbally, they are unable to participate in the design process. Thus animals don’t qualify as research participants (or even users: indeed the author never refers to them as such), but remain subjects in a design process which is mindful of their known characteristics. ” (p. 3)

“[Mankoff] manage[s] to highlight a number of serious issues faced by researchers wishing to design user-centered technology for animals: the need to think from the animal user’s ‘viewpoint’, the methodological inadequacy of most HCI frameworks and techniques, the necessity to closely refer to animal physiology and natural behavior to inform requirements, and the challenge of conducting controlled or at least reliable evaluations from the animals’ perspective.” (p. 3)

“In this work (Wingrave et al. and Noz and An), both animals (respectively dogs and cats) and humans seem to be regarded as full-fledged research participants and users whose needs seem to equally motivate the technological intervention in question. Dealing with the human-animal interaction as a partnership and, in the case of Noz and An, in-the-wild allows the researchers to account for the richness of contextualized dynamics and even identify articulated design guidelines for future iterations of the systems.” (p. 4)

“Within this kind of qualitative research, findings largely (albeit not solely) derive from the subjective input of human participants as well as the subjective interpretation of the researcher. This makes evaluating technological interventions from an animal perspective particularly problematic, as it raises the issue of intersubjectivity (i.e. the possibility of shared mental states) between humans (both participants and researchers) and animals.” (p. 4)

“Instead of assuming or discounting possible shared mental states between actors (human and canine participants), they delegate that decision to the actors themselves (the human participants), who appear to attribute mental states to their counterparts (the canine participants) on the basis of their manifest actions (their behavior) contextualized within a shared practice (the hunt).” (p. 5)

“[Mancini et al.] suggest that, hard as it might be, researchers should seek to engage with the sensemaking mechanisms and processes that might be at play when animals interact with technology, or with humans via the mediation of technology, in order to understand how animals might make sense of those interactions.” (p. 5)

“However, beyond human-animal interactions, the most challenging research questions and novel contributions emerging from these investigations are to do with the challenge of designing and evaluating interactive technology for very different user groups, that is user groups belonging to multiple species.” (p. 5)

“McGrath also pointed out how designing for other species challenges designers to understand the basic nature of interaction and prompts them to experiment with novel interfaces thus propelling interaction design forward.” (p. 6)

” if we allow anthropocentric technology to drive a wedge between us and those who made us who we are, we will not just lose them, we will lose ourselves too.” (p. 7)

Further Reading

Savage, J., Sanchez-Guzman, R.A., Mayol-Cuevas, W., Arce, L., Hernandez, A., Brier, L., Martinez, F., Velazquez, A., Lopez, G. (2000). Animal-Machine Interfaces. Proc. Fourth International Symposium on Wearable Computers, pp.191-192

Wingrave, C.A., Rose, J., Langston, T., LaViola Jr, J.J. (2010). Early Explorations of CAT: Canine Amusement and Training. Proc. CHI’10, ACM Press, pp.2661-2664.

Paldanius, M., Kärkkäinen, T., Väänänen-VainioMattila, K., Juhlin, O., Häkkilä, J. (2011). Communication Technology for Human-Dog Interaction: Exploration of Dog Owners’ Experiences and Expectations. Proc. CHI’11. ACM Press, pp. 2631-2640.

Weilenmann, A., Juhlin, O. (2011). Understanding People and Animals: the Use of a Positioning System in Ordinary Human Canine Interaction. Proc. CHI’11. ACM Press, pp.2631-2640.

Golbeck, J., Neustaedter, C. (2012). Pet Video Chat: Monitoring and Interacting with Dogs over Distance. Proc. CHI EA’12, ACM Press, pp.211-220.

Norman, D., Draper, S.W. (1986). User Centered System Design. New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Rogers, Y., Sharp, H., Preece, J. (2011). Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction. Wiley & Sons.

Kohn, E. (2010). How Dogs Dream: Amazonian Natures and the Politics of Transspecies. American Ethnologist, 34(1), pp.3-24.

Haraway, D. (2008). When Species Meet. University of Minnesota Press.

Published inPhD