The Machine

The second cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is the Machine.  The authors ask us to think of when we are confronted with a malfunctioning piece of technology like a laptop.  They note that our first impulse isn’t to think , “It gets angry when too many programs are open.”  Similarly when we are hoping that our car will start on a cold winter morning, we don’t think about complex interactions of carburetor and temperature but instead think of our car as stubborn or unhappy in the cold—and beg it to not make us late for work.  The authors note that the tendency to see mind in technology occurs primarily when it disobeys our desires.  When machines function smoothly we feel in control.  When they don’t we turn to mind to help us understand.

Psychologist Carey Morewedge has termed his phenomenon a negative bias in mind perception.  Negative events prompt mind perception more than positive events.  She illustrated this phenomenon in an experiment in which participants played the ultimatum game.  In the ultimatum one participant is given a sum of money, say $10.  She then meets a second participant with the requirement that she offer her a cut of this money.  If she accepts the cut, they both leave with their respective amounts of money.  However, if the second participant refuses the offer, then they both forfeit the money.  According to classical economic theory, the second participant should accept the offer, no matter how small.  So even if the offer were $1, one should take it because otherwise she would leave with nothing.  In reality, if people are not offered some reasonable amount, they will refuse the offer.

In Morewidge’s experiment, study participants played three ultimatum games with three different partners, who (the participants were told), could be all people, all computers, or some combination of the two.    After the participants were presented with the proposed split from their partner, Morewedge asked them to guess whether heir partner was a computer or a person.  The partner was always a computer.  When the offer was fair or generous, they were more than happy to think it was a mindless machine, but when the offer was unfair, they ascribed intention behind it, believing it to result from the cruel calculations o another person.  This phenomenon where bad outcomes lead people to search of an agent to blame for mistreatment is called dyadic completion.

People often perceive mind in machines because of anthropomorphism.  We are generally anthropomorphic, seeing everything from the perspective of ourselves.  We have schemas, scripts or outlines for how things should go, for many things in life.  These schemas are unconscious, so we usually don’t realize when we are anthropomorphizing..  Clifford Nass and Young Moon found that participants treated computers as if they had gender and ethnicity.  Polite people were polite to test computers.  When the computer asked how it was performing, people were consistently nice, even when it was actually performing poorly.  However, just as with humans, this politeness held only when participants were dealing with the computer “face to face.”  They would bad-mouth one computer to a different computer!

The concept of transactive memory is key to the machine mind, as indeed the machine is mind.  As was noted in the introductory blog post to “The Mind Game” Wegner articulated the concept of transactive memory.  Transactive memory refers to memories held by fellow humans and by memories held in technology.  Conventional technology involved paper, but digital technology is electronic.  We can ask our spouse or someone else we know well, to remind us of something, or to tell us something about a topic of interest.  However, most of our memory is distributed among a wide variety of digital machines.

Healthy memory distinguishes among three types of memory.  Accessible memory are those memories that are either internal or can be readily accused externally.  Some memories are available, in that a we know how to find them, but are not immediately accessible to recall.  Potential memory is all the data, information, knowledge, that can be found in our fellow human beings or in technology.  It is through technological artifacts that we are able to access all recorded knowledge that predates us.

There are two senses to the machine mind.  One is how it the machine works, which can be difficult and consists of problems that usability research is supposed to address.  However, in another sense, the machine mind consists of the totality of recorded human data, information, and knowledge.  The machine mind will increasingly become part of our daily lives.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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