People may welcome talking tissue boxes and other smart objects

May 01, 2013

Just as people have embraced computers and smart phones, they may also give their blessing to talking tissue boxes and other smart objects, according to Penn State researchers.

"Smart objects will become more and more a part of our daily lives," said S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory. "We believe the next phase is that objects will start talking and interacting with humans, and our goal is to figure out the best ways for objects to communicate with humans."

As sensors and computers increasingly become smaller and cheaper, smart objects will appear in more homes and offices and not be hidden or shielded from interacting with people, according to the researchers. For example, smart could talk or send tweets to signal when certain are almost out, or when expiration dates are nearing, according to the researchers.

"We regularly communicate with objects by collecting data from those objects," said Haiyan Jia, doctoral candidate in , who worked with Sundar. "But we wanted to test what happens when objects talk directly to us in a ."

Researchers videotaped participants as they reacted to a talking box of tissues that was on a desk in the laboratory. Once a laboratory worker sneezed, the tissue box said, "Bless You." The tissue box also responded with two follow-up messages: "Here, take a tissue" and "Take care!"

Participants from two other groups heard the same messages from either a laboratory worker or a talking tabletop robot, according to the researchers, who presented their findings at the 2013 Annual Conference on in in Paris today (May 1).

The participants found the talking tissue box just as human-like and as autonomous as the robot, even though robots are more human-looking and human-acting. In actuality, a research assistant operated both the robot and tissue box by broadcasting the pre-recorded statements to the devices.

Researchers invited the 63 subjects to participate under the guise that they were taking part in a cognitive games study. In addition to watching their reactions on videotape, researchers asked the participants to fill out a questionnaire about the lab environment, including questions on the smart objects.

People seem to strongly respond to the voice of the object, said Jia. Sundar and Jia also worked with Mu Wu and Eunhwa Jung, graduate students in mass communications, and Alice Shapiro, graduate student in learning and performance systems.

Sundar said that the study may also help manufacturers design smart objects. While designers tend to make robots look human, many people consider robots that are too humanlike creepy.

"This study shows that speech is a social cue," said Sundar. "It may be enough to make the objects more social and not necessarily more human-like in appearance."

At least tentatively, Jia said this shows that people will accept smart objects. However, she added that future research should investigate if people will strongly connect with these objects and if long-term exposure to smart objects as social companions may change people's attitudes toward these objects over time.

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User comments : 7

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PhotonX
5 / 5 (1) May 01, 2013
Maybe I'm just an old fuddy-duddy, but I'm pretty sure the only smart refrigerator I'm interested in is one that cleans itself. And I'm positive that I don't want to have any kind of a conversation with my Kleenex box. What's next? A talking toilet that let's me know when I'm done wiping my...well, never mind. Suffice it to say that I didn't have a pair of eyeglasses in mind. There are some things that simply don't require machine interaction.
alfie_null
2 / 5 (1) May 01, 2013
If children are exposed to a house full of talking gadgets that simulate to varying degrees sociability, how are their developing social skills going to be affected (warped)?
JimCool
3 / 5 (2) May 01, 2013
Oh Joy! just what I need to happen in my home with guests, for my snot paper container to start talking to me for all to hear. My dishes to tell a guest they were washed and stored correctly but was over a week ago. My roof begins screaming to the delight of my neighbors that a bird just pooped it. Hows this for smart. Give me a break!
drhoo
5 / 5 (1) May 01, 2013
""At least tentatively, Jia said this shows that people will accept smart objects. However, she added that future research should investigate if people will strongly connect with these objects and if long-term exposure to smart objects as social companions may change people's attitudes toward these objects over time.""

I'm sorry but this is just ridiculous.
There is no limit to what can be devised but there is a limit to what will be desired or tolerated.
ValeriaT
3 / 5 (2) May 01, 2013
I do believe, these "smart objects" will find their market in similar way, like many USB powered gadgets without practical value. I know many people are buying it - but who is actually using it seriously outside of parties?
QuixoteJ
3 / 5 (2) May 01, 2013
[the article]For example, smart refrigerators could talk or send tweets to signal when certain food items are almost out, or when expiration dates are nearing, according to the researchers.
But then you would have to learn what the different pitches of the tweets are, etc. High pitched tweet for "my door is open", low pitched tweet for "the milk is bad", which is just ridiculous.

It would be better if the refrigerator sends "twitters" which are short text messages you can acutally read and understand immediately. "Tweets" are sounds that birds make.
Moebius
not rated yet May 05, 2013
Right, welcomed as much as parents welcome kids gifts that require batteries.