If you don’t know Radiolab already – I urge you to check it out. It’s a brilliant podcast my friend Stuart urged me to listen to. They tackle all sorts of topics with interesting and inspiring stories.
One of the last episodes I listed to was ‘Talking to machines’. I think anyone who’s interested in machines, computers, Internet of Things or Ubicomp will enjoy it.
Furby, the speaking toy creature that moans when it’s held upside down is used as an example for how machines can make us treat them like living creatures. Not sure it was the annoyance or the agitation created by it, but Kids felt they had to put it back on its feet much faster than when holding a Barbie doll upside down. That put the Furby closer to how they dealt with a live gerbil compared to an inanimate, non-speaking toy.
It’s a bit scary to think how engineering the appearance and behaviour of such a toy makes it possible to have powerful effects on a kids emotions when handling it. The bit in the show where the kids describe their behaviour shows how conflicted they are about whether Furby feels pain or not.