Designing playful engagements with animals to find, imagine, or emphasize non-speciesist practices
On the 11th of November, the Advanced Computer Entertainment (ACE’14) Conference took place in Funchal (Madeira) hosting the first international conference on Animal Computer Interaction (ACI). Unlike previous ACI gatherings, this one played host to a mixing pot of ideas and frameworks which aimed to put formats into a currently sparse and often exploratory area of animals within computer technology.
Unfortunately I could not attend this congress myself, because I was part of a panel and presenting a paper at the Philosophy of Computer Games conference in Istanbul. Luckily my friend and researcher with common interest Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas was going to present her work in Madeira and agreed on presenting my paper as well. She wrote this blog post as a summary of the congress.
The themes of the congress were mostly dog driven but did also play homage to apes and cats. This blog post will map the questions raised during this conference to help give a more indulgent representation of the day with the references given.
Heli Väätäjä. Animal Welfare as a Design Goal in Technology Mediated Human-Animal Interaction – Opportunities with Haptics
Heli skillfully presented a paper which contained a framework for measuring interaction in ACI with animal welfare as a design goal. The framework included synchronization, awareness and input/outputs to name a few measurements. This interaction was haptic based with questions raised on what stimuli a dog would prefer. Another key question raised during the discussion of the paper was what is animal welfare and if it is an animal ‘feeling good’ how can this be measured?
As designers within ACI we do not have that functionality to simply ask the end-user for an evaluation and with the standards of animal welfare ranging vastly in diffracting contexts, this paper frames key points of thought for any dog designer dealing with haptic interaction.
Claire Micklin. DogTracker: A Mobile App Engaging Citizens and Officials in Addressing the Stray Dog Crisis
Claire presented a conceptual idea for a mobile app which allowed citizens to photography and possibly geomap a stray dog’s locational data in order to create a heat-map of the stray’s movements. The idea of long range RFID tags (300ft) feasibility within this study was also discussed along with collective ownership. The idea of collective ownership over strays is a debatable one as many academics within the conference argued it could encourage a lack of responsibility and result in the dog not receiving the best possible care. This ideology did however allow the culture of the local populous which was studied fit the dog rather than vice versa as it did not force the community to change.
A key argument against this app being open source would be that while this app could generate heat-maps to allow people to help the dogs it could also do the contradictory and allow those who did not like dogs to harm them. For this reason the availability of the data crowd sourced was discussed.
Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas and Janet C. Read. Who Is Really In the Centre Of Dog Computer Interaction?
Ilyena presented an article on creating more dog-centered interaction with questions being raised around the differences in dog-centered and human-centered interaction in ACI and ultimately who they benefited. This was done by splitting the interaction into Humanization (making the animal fit the human model), Domestication (value for human and animal) and Playful with a sliding scale on animal to human benefits.
While this paper was quite open to discussion it was noted that it can be hard to define playful behaviour without preconceptions and while the paper aimed to grasp a big ideology it could maybe by only fitting this model into certain contexts this can be answered. However it did open up important question in ACI: Who is in the center of design in ACI?
Patricia Pons, Javier Jaen and Alejandro Catala. Animal Ludens: Building Intelligent Playful Environments for Animals
Patricia presented a paper aiming to model features of interactive environments with their benefits and faults using measurements such as human participants, control and single/multipurpose activities. This paper presented a much indiscriminate outlook on ACI which the authors planned to use in later studies. The key question that arose within this research: do animals like games? While currently there is no form of consent the common understanding of consent in ACI appears to be non-participation, with many ACI researchers allowing the animals to simply walk away and show no interest in the interaction.
Sarah Ritvo and Robert Allison. Challenges Related to Nonhuman Animal-Computer Interaction: Usability and ‘Liking’
Sarah presented a touch-screen interface split in half to allow apes (orangutans) to choose to listen to 30 seconds of music (country) or listen to silence to try and understand if apes like music. The interaction was done through a stylus in the animal’s zoo and found the animals often preferred silence. The authors also tried more natural animal sounds and video but this only lead to the animals being scared which the researcher speculated was to do with their unnatural environment.
Emphasis of the research was put on cost benefit analysis of ACI work with the author wanting to develop generalized guidelines for animal interactions with specific animal concerns. Inquiries were raised on how these guidelines aim to be gathered and if in fact you could create rules for all animals.
Michelle Westerlaken and Stefano Gualeni. Grounded Zoomorphism: an evaluation methodology for ACI design
The authors presented their work on a new method of evaluating interactions of ACI with a playful artifact using Felino, a tablet game that aims to provide play for both cats and humans. Their method relies on a Grounded Theory approach and aims at guiding design and research in ACI in a way that is better focused on the experience and needs of the animals interacting with playful, digital artefacts. While Felino is still within early developments, they started to implement iterations that the authors found, such as a parallel in cats curiosity at hidden items on screen and off screen and choices in size/colour of playful artifacts.
Inquiries were raised on the relationship effect between the changes made and iterations but this could not be answered yet at such an early stage within the research.
PANEL “Animal Human Computer Interaction – The Future”
After the presentations there was a panel discussion on where the organizers (Oskar, Clara and Yoram) discussed what direction they see ACI going and why they are interested in ACI. After this, a discussion was held on how to advance ACI as a community as currently it is a very niche area presented within various conferences. It was decided that a facebook group was going to be made allowing researchers to keep in touch: https://www.facebook.com/acisig
Thank you very much Ilyena for writing this post! It seems like you all had a very interesting and productive day in Madeira.