Book Review–The Man Who Lied to His Laptop

What’s common between us and computers? Can we use computers as a tool to learn human behavior?The Man Who Lied to His Laptop

While the answer sounds an obvious no, but book by Clifford Nass, Professor at Stanford University (Director of HCI lab) does brings interesting insights to the table.

Unlike several other theoretical books on HCI (Human Computer Interaction), this book takes a much practical approach with experiments and their results.

For example, Nass talks of an interesting case study of BMW’s GPS system when German drivers refused to take ‘orders’ from a female.

“A woman should not be giving directions.” Despite the customer service rep’s reassurance that the navigation system in his car wasn’t actually a woman-just a computer with a female voice-the driver  refused to listen.

Nass covers several experiments (Microsoft’s Clippy) that ranges across topics like Praise, Team building to Emotion and Persuasion.

If you are a product designer, this book is for you – there are couple of very interesting experiments that showcases how people react to simple messages. There are a few experiments where ‘submissive’ computer changed its behavior and became more like the participant which resulted in participants liking the computer!.

“people felt that the computer changed to be similar was more intelligent and helpful than the consistent similar computer…

The central idea is that when people first get a small reward and receive a consistently large reward, they feel even better than when they receive a consistently large reward”

Nass has essentially analyzed the fundamental types of people – extrovert, introvert, critic and sidekick and a chapter worth reading is ‘Team & Team Building’.

Though the book sometimes gets into an overdose of experiments, I recommend ‘The Man Who Lied to His Laptop’ to people who are interested in social science. This book can help you create an abstract framework in understanding people, analyzing designs and maybe, diagnosing failures.

For reference, do visit Clifford Nass’s site.

Disclosure: I received a sample copy of the book from Penguin US.

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