downtown Mumbai, India (Figure 5).
In particular, we have been comparing
the performance of boxes powered
only by AI with those that enable
answers via the cloud.
We’ve learned a lot from these
deployments. One thing that stands
out is that the AI struggles with many
questions. Sometimes this is because
of speech-recognition issues or lack of
local context; however, other times the
failure is because the AI is an alien. Not
human, not of us.
IF A ROBOT COULD SPEAK…
In a blog post, Richard Harper points
to Wittgenstein’s famous statement,
“If a lion could talk we could not
understand him.” The argument
is that even if a lion and human
could converse, because they come
from completely different worlds,
there would not be any meaningful
conversations [ 6].
If the current hype over AI recedes,
maybe we will see more clearly that
we will never have deep, meaningful
interactions with machines, even if we
can converse with them. However, I
am scared that something else might
happen: that the only way we and AI
will be able to truly understand each
other is if we become like them—if
we become robots, shaped by our
continuous interactions on our
To end, let’s picture two future robots.
One is the familiar, humanoid-like
device. I caution that worrying about
what these technologies will or won’t
do for and to humanity is a distraction.
The other image is of a young baby,
prodding, heads-down on a tablet
computer (if you can’t picture it, simply
search online for “baby mobile phone”).
Rather than being adorable and cute,
this sight should wake us from our own
digitally induced click-by-click hypnosis
to act before the next generation
becomes what we have always feared,
but in ways we couldn’t imagine.
If you want to read more suggestions
for designing for humans rather
than robots, expanded examples
appear in the book I co-authored
with Simon Robinson and Gary
Marsden, There’s Not an App for
That (Morgan Kaufmann).
1. LaMotte, S. Smartphone addiction
could be changing your brain. CNN.
Dec. 1, 2017; https://edition.cnn.
DOI: 10.1145/3358910 COPYRIGHT HELD B Y AUTHOR. PUBLICATION RIGHTS LICENSED TO ACM. $15.00
2. Hayes, M. How to quit your tech: A
beginner's guide to divorcing your phone.
The Guardian. Jan. 13, 2018; https://
3. Pearson, J., Robinson, S., and Jones, M. It's
about time: Smart watches as public displays.
Proc. of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on
Human Factors in Computing Systems). ACM,
New York, 2015, 1257–1266.
4. Höök, K. Transferring qualities from
horseback riding to design. Proc. of the 6th
Nordic Conference on Human-Computer
Interaction: Extending Boundaries. ACM,
New York, 2010, 226–235.
5. Pearson, J., Robinson, S., Reitmaier, T.,
Jones, M., Ahire, S., Joshi, A., Sahoo, D.,
Maravi, N., and Bhikne. B. Street Wise:
Smart speakers vs. human help in public
slum settings. Proc. of the 2019 CHI
Conference on Human Factors in Computing
Systems. ACM, New York, 2019, Paper 96.
6. Harper, R. Dialogues with computers?
Profharper blog. July 9, 2013; https://
Matt Jones is the author of two books
and many research articles that have helped
shape the field of mobile HCI and UX (Mobile
Interaction Design with Gary Marsden and
There's Not an App for That with Simon
Robinson and Gary Marsden).
Figure 5. Experimenting with AI and human-powered speech assistants in Dharavi [ 5].