Do you really want your tissue box to bless you after you sneeze? Apparently, some people like the idea. We’ve accepted talking smart phones, but how ready are we for a house full of smart objects? That’s what researchers from Penn State wanted to find out.
The research team set up a talking box of tissues to see how people would react. The tissue box said, “Bless you,” when a laboratory worker sneezed. It also said, “Here, take a tissue,” and “Take care.” Two other groups heard messages from a human-looking and human-acting talking tabletop robot or a human laboratory worker.
The 63 participants were told they were taking part in a cognitive games study and were asked to fill out a questionnaire about the lab environment and smart objects. Researchers watched participants’ reactions on videotape and observed strong responses. Subjects were just as receptive to the tissue box as to the robot.
“This study shows that speech is a social cue,” said S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory. “It may be enough to make the objects more social and not necessarily more human-like in appearance.”
Future research should study long-term exposure to smart objects to see if feelings change over time, say researchers, but this study indicates that people will accept more smart objects into their lives.
“Smart objects will become more and more a part of our daily lives,” said Sundar. “We believe the next phase is that objects will start talking and interacting with humans, and our goal is to figure out the best ways for objects to communicate with humans.”
In the not-too-distant future, your refrigerator may tell you when you’re almost out of lettuce or when your condiments are ready to expire, according to researchers. I’m not sure I’m ready for all that chatter. What do you think?
Photo credit: Hemera/Thinkstock