Conference PaperPDF Available

Making Everyday Things Talk: Speculative Conversations into the Future of Voice Interfaces at Home

Authors:
Making Everyday Things Talk: Speculative Conversations into
the Future of Voice Interfaces at Home
Anuradha Reddy∗∗
Malmö University
Sweden
anuradha.reddy@mau.se
Marie Louise Juul
Søndergaard
KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Sweden
Chris Speed
University of Edinburgh
United Kingdom
Francisca Grommé
Erasmus University Rotterdam
The Netherlands
Paulina Yurman
University of the Arts London
United Kingdom
A. Baki Kocaballi
University of Technology Sydney
Australia
baki.kocaballi@uts.edu.au
Maria Luce Lupetti
Delft University of Technology
The Netherlands
Dan Lockton
Eindhoven University of Technology
The Netherlands
Holly Robbins
Eindhoven University of Technology
The Netherlands
Shanti Sumartojo
Monash University
Australia
Iohanna Nicenboim
Delft University of Technology
The Netherlands
Cayla Key
Northumbria University
United Kingdom
Elisa Giaccardi
Delft University of Technology
The Netherlands
Namrata Primlani
Northumbria University
United Kingdom
Thao Phan
Deakin University
Australia
Viktor Bedö
Critical Media Lab Basel
Switzerland
ABSTRACT
What if things had a voice? What if we could talk directly to things
instead of using a mediating voice interface such as an Alexa or a
Google Assistant? In this paper, we share our insights from talking
to a pair of boots, a tampon, a perfume bottle, and toilet paper
among other everyday things to explore their conversational capa-
bilities. We conducted Thing Interviews using a more-than-human
design approach to discover a thing’s perspectives, worldviews and
its relations to other humans and nonhumans. Based on our anal-
ysis of the speculative conversations, we identied some themes
characterizing the emergent qualities of people’s relationships with
everyday things. We believe the themes presented in the paper
may inspire future research on designing everyday things with
conversational capabilities at home.
The rst 5 main authors contributed equally to the paper and the rest are contributing
authors.
Yolande Strengers
Monash University
Australia
CCS CONCEPTS
Human-centered computing Interaction design.
KEYWORDS
Thing Interviews, Conversational Agents, Voice Interfaces, IoT, AI,
More-than-human Design
ACM Reference Format:
Anuradha Reddy, A. Baki Kocaballi, Iohanna Nicenboim, Marie Louise Juul
Søndergaard, Maria Luce Lupetti, Cayla Key, Chris Speed, Dan Lockton, Elisa
Giaccardi, Francisca Grommé, Holly Robbins, Namrata Primlani, Paulina
Yurman, Shanti Sumartojo, Thao Phan, Viktor Bedö, and Yolande Strengers.
2021. Making Everyday Things Talk: Speculative Conversations into the
Future of Voice Interfaces at Home. In CHI Conference on Human Factors in
Computing Systems Extended Abstracts (CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts), May
8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 16 pages. https:
//doi.org/10.1145/3411763.3450390
1 INTRODUCTION
Permission to make digital or hard copies of part or all of this work for personal or
classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed
for prot or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation
on the rst page. Copyrights for third-party components of this work must be honored.
For all other uses, contact the owner/author(s).
CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
© 2021 Copyright held by the owner/author(s).
ACM ISBN 978-1-4503-8095-9/21/05.
https://doi.org/10.1145/3411763.3450390
As intelligent things are becoming commonplace in our households,
there is an impulsive market drive to have human-like conversa-
tions with them. Through future industrial visions, we become
inclined and accustomed to verbally command a lamp to turn on,
a kettle to boil water, or to summon a car to the driveway. Yet,
individuals do not interact directly with the things themselves, but
rather through mediated AI voice interfaces such as Amazon Alexa,
CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Reddy, et al.
Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant, otherwise known as conversa-
tional agents (CA). These allow people to control their smart and
connected appliances but also entertain them with their ability
to whisper [
31
], joke and even irt [
8
], opening up an unprece-
dented space of more-than-human social interactions. However,
these emerging voice interactions are limited by the extent of con-
versations they make possible with things in the home. As Reeves
et al. [
38
] argue “calling interactions with voice interface conver-
sational is perhaps a confusion” as they actually are limited to
sequences of requests and responses, where things are reduced
to their mere functionality and use. Current CAs appear to share
the faith of many technological innovations employing a type of
human-centered perspective focusing on utilitarian aspects of in-
teraction that may constrain our capacity to explore the possible
nuances of emerging relationships between humans and things. We
feel that there is an untapped potential in research concerning the
conversational qualities and capacities of CAs that can be explored
to attend to other ways in which things intelligent or not can
speak to us and us to them.
This paper employs a more-than-human design approach to con-
versational interaction with everyday things we live with at home.
Through a conceptual shift from human-centered to more-than-
human-centered design, and by incorporating a thing’s perspective,
we imagine that things have a ‘voice’: a voice that goes beyond
the ones that existing AI voice interfaces attribute to them. We
conducted interviews with things as a way to explore the non-
human space in the design of conversations with things beyond
their immediate use. We began by asking how and about what
things might speak if they had a voice, which led us to reect on 1)
how things in fact already speak to us in their ritualised, situated,
and materially-rich embodiments; and 2) the emergent qualities of
people’s relationships with everyday things and how that might
inspire the design of intelligent CAs at home. We share our insights
from conversations with things to enrich the dominant vision on
‘voice interface’ that could open up opportunities for designing
more diverse interactions with everyday things. It is important
to note that not all our insights can be translated into practical
design implications. Some of them could work more to inform our
understanding or to become sensitized to how our relationships
with CAs can be otherwise imagined. It is also worth noting here
that our focus is on CAs that have voice interfaces, which excludes
other non-voice-based instantiations of CAs such as chatbots or
holograms.
2 MORE-THAN-HUMAN DESIGN
With existing market-driven foci on convenience and eciency,
the way intelligence is implemented and performed by CAs, con-
fronted with smart and connected things (IoT), is fundamentally
dierent from other creative enactments of AI, social robots and
assistive technologies in the home. Among them, CAs are rapidly
inhabiting our households, and in doing so they mediate not only
our daily social interactions with family and work life [
26
] but also
determine interactions with everyday things that live with us [
6
].
CAs have come to play a dominant role in our social imagination
when we think about the kind of conversations to be had with
everyday things. For instance, one might expect that a second-hand
kettle might talk about diverse topics, or have a dierent worldview,
than an existing CA that commands a kettle to boil water. Beyond
obvious use, our conversations with things could be more varied
depending on context, materiality, and relations to humans and
other things around them. Aligning with concerns of third-wave
HCI [
10
], this situation opens up the space to imagine how a variety
of conversations could emerge, which includes how things already
talk to us in their own non-lexical way. These questions about how
things ‘talk’ can be approached from the lens of New Materialism
(NM), a conceptual turn away from the incessant dualisms separat-
ing humans from nonhumans, and here Bennett’s eco-philosophy
is especially relevant. Bennett theorizes a “vital materiality” that
runs across both human and nonhuman bodies, in which agency
always emerges as the eect of ad hoc congurations of human
and nonhuman forces [7].
Aligning with NM thought, there are a range of emerging more-
than-human approaches in design and HCI [
13
15
,
18
,
23
,
24
]. These
approaches focus on understanding the roles that humans and non-
humans can play in everyday life and the new capacities for action
that can arise as a consequence of changing human-nonhuman
relationships [
19
,
27
]. This approach enables us to move beyond
positioning AI in relation to human activities (as tools for use), and
instead, to inquire into nonhuman agency and possible new rela-
tions with things [
17
,
37
]. Design and HCI researchers have made
attempts at exploring the shift from a human-centered approach to
that of seeking nonhuman perspectives. In these explorations, it is
signicant that AI devices are involved as agents, with their unique
capacities and sensibilities by which they provide unprecedented
access to nonhuman perspectives of the world. Whereas Wakkary
et al. [
41
] employ machinic “morse code” translations to specu-
late about what things do, Giaccardi et al. [
20
] augment everyday
objects with intelligent cameras and sensors and cast them in vari-
ous social roles as co-ethnographers and co-designers to explore
their Thing Perspectives. Thing Perspectives [
29
,
35
,
40
] are in-
creasingly being taken up by researchers in contexts where human
perspectives are felt to be partial undermining the broader ethical
implications of hidden machinations and the uid interdependent
relations between humans and nonhumans.
Recently, speculative forms of Thing Interviews [
30
,
36
] where
researchers impersonate things and interview them have been use-
ful for imagining what roles things play in everyday life, and as a
means to re-imagine how things could be dierent. The benet of
humans role-playing things is the enabling of displaced embodi-
ment and the awareness it raises about our human biases and limi-
tations, which is a critical dierence from the Thing Perspectives
method’s reliance on sensors. Nicenboim et al. [
30
] have embraced
the more-than-human approach by conducting speculative Thing
Interviews with CAs to ask critical questions about the infrastruc-
tures, ecologies, roles and relations that sustain CA interactions. In
a complementary way, in this inquiry, we employ Thing Interviews
to explore the scope and qualities of conversations one can have
with everyday things at home if they had a voice.
Making Everyday Things Talk CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
3 STEPPING INTO THE THING’S SHOES
We adopted a more-than-human design approach and performed
an investigation that combined a Thing Perspective exercise with
speculative Thing Interviews: methods that invite humans to take
pictures from a thing’s perspective and to conduct an interview
with the respective thing. To run the investigation, the organizing
authors composed a collaborative design exercise and shared it with
the contributing authors. The contributing authors played a critical
role in conducting the investigation because they were involved
as either organizers or participants in a series of prior workshops
that incorporated the Thing Interview method within a more-than-
human framework [
30
,
36
]. Every author in this paper thus had prior
experience in engaging with nonhumans and to discuss the nuances
and implications of the investigation. Together, as researchers, we
share interdisciplinary backgrounds in interaction design, HCI,
sociology, anthropology, STS, and political science, and we are
primarily located in the global north (including Australia).
The exercise was divided into three parts. 1) The contributing
authors were asked to choose an everyday thing from their home
an item that they had an established relationship with, or that
they interacted with on a regular basis. They were asked to take
four pictures: one picture of the thing in its everyday context seen
from a human perspective, and three pictures from the thing’s per-
spective. Figure 1 shows, for each thing, the ‘human’ and ‘thing’
perspectives. 2) The second part was a series of online meetings
between six pairs of contributing authors (one pair per meeting).
In these meeting, each pair was instructed to take turns to inter-
view their partner’s chosen thing for about 7-10 minutes. The pair
assumed two roles: the human interviewer and the thing. The hu-
man interviewer posed questions directly to the thing chosen by
their partner, who responded on the thing’s behalf. The organiz-
ing authors further advised the paired co-authors to inquire into
the relations the chosen thing has with humans and other things,
its worldview, and to allow the thing’s context and materiality to
inspire the conversation. Those enacting the thing were invited
to position it in front of the computer’s camera and record the
interview by audio (or video). 3) After the interview meeting, the
contributing authors were invited to reect on some questions pro-
vided by the organizing authors (Table 1), and to transcribe three
key conversation snippets from their interview.
The submissions included pictures of the chosen things, selected
conversation snippets from the interviews, and reections to the
questions. The submissions were analyzed by the organizing au-
thors in two rounds. In the rst round, the authors reviewed the
submissions and annotated the transcripts. In the second round,
the annotations and its associated reections were mapped via an
online visual collaborative platform and specic themes were iden-
tied. These themes were elaborated in a written paper draft and
shared with the contributing authors, who reviewed and provided
feedback.
4 HOW DID THE THINGS RESPOND?
The six submissions consisted of the selection of 12 things (two
things per pair) as presented in Figure 1, followed by the sample
snippets of their conversations with human interviewers: a mug
and a tampon, a plant and a coee maker, a teapot and a perfume
bottle, a pair of boots and a door, a window and an ear bud, and
toilet paper and a coee machine (Table 2). Expanded transcripts
of conversations are available at Appendix A. Pseudonyms are
used wherever relevant for disassociating things with the authors’
identities.
5 EMERGING THEMES
5.1 World as perceived by the thing
The interviewers’ questions to things showed a wide range of topics
from feminism to activism to sustainability. This suggests that the
interviewers made a strong connection between the capability of
being able to talk with that of being intelligent. However, it can be
argued that we may not prefer to have very smart everyday things
around us. How much do we want or expect our kettle to know
about us or the outside world? Does conversational competence
require being intelligent and knowledgeable? In the interview with
the plant, one of the plant’s responses involved a description of a
laptop without having the knowledge of what a laptop is: “Some-
times I can’t see her face because there is this kind of silver vertical
thing that has some kind of fruit on it, I noticed that other plants also
have fruits. Here, the plant sees the laptop as a rectangular metal
surface with a fruit on it and that’s actually sucient for the plant
to express its idea. The plant’s response is a good example of how
things can communicate with a limited amount of knowledge about
their surrounding environment. This response is important as it
demonstrates how one could go beyond anthropomorphised views
and embrace how a thing may perceive the environment from what
we may otherwise refer to as a thing’s viewpoint.
Table 1: Questions prompted for reection
Human acting on behalf of the thing Human Interviewer
What was the motivation for choosing the thing? What
roles did the thing play in your conversation?
What topics did you address? Why did you choose the
topics you talked about?
Did new relations surface by conversing as the thing?
Did new relations surface by conversing with the thing?
How did the embodied and material qualities of the
thing inuence the way you answered the questions?
How did the embodied and material qualities of the
thing inuence the way you asked the questions?
Would your interaction with the thing be dierent if it
was mediated by a generic voice assistant?
Would your questions to the thing be dierent if it was
mediated by a generic voice assistant?
CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Reddy, et al.
Figure 1: From the top left: a mug (A1 & A2); a tampon (B1 & B2); a coee maker (C1 & C2); a plant (D1 & D2); a teapot (E1 &
E2); a perfume bottle (F1 & F2); a pair of boots (G1 & G2); a door lock (H1 & H2); a window (I1 & I2); an ear bud (J1 & J2); a roll
of toilet paper (K1 & K2); a coee machine (L1 & L2). X1 and X2 correspond to human and thing perspectives respectively.
The thing’s viewpoint or the world as perceived by the thing can
communicate with us. Ultimately, this theme asks us to re-think a
be an important concept for designing CAs as it suggests that we
thing’s viewpoint of the world. What kind of representations might
can imagine intelligence emerging with things dierently, one that
there be to support the communication needs between humans and
does not need to rely on knowing everything. Perhaps things only
things and potentially how such new things representations oer
need a uniquely constrained capacity to describe the world and
benets in design factors such as privacy, safety, and agency? An
Making Everyday Things Talk CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
Table 2: List of things accompanied by conversation-snippets from the Thing Interviews to identify emerging themes
Thing Questions by Hu-
man Interviewer Responses from Things Emerging
Themes
Mug
Do you remember
your maker?
I don’t really have a strong memory of my maker, but I do have
a vague memory of the sensation of being pulled into the shape
that I am.
Permanence /
Impermanence
Tampon
What do you think
you’re used for?
While I’m still in my packaging I’ve never been able to explore
to see what it is for. I feel like I’ve got a lot of potential or
growth.. (*winks*). I think I’m there in case of emergencies.
Permanence /
Impermanence
Plant
Tell me about what
you see inside.
Sometimes I can’t see her face because there is this kind of
silver vertical thing that has some kind of fruit on it, I noticed
that other plants also have fruits. This metallic thing sometimes
covers her face.
World as per-
ceived by the
thing
Coee
maker
Are you a noisy cof-
fee maker?
I make a kind of quite loud gurgling sound when I’m making
coee for people. It’s loud enough for John to notice that I’m
ready.
Breaking
silence
Teapot
Do you think about
death and are you
afraid of dying?
I know she won’t put me together. I never saw her repair
anything. I think when I break it’s all over for me.
Permanence /
Impermanence
Perfume
bottle
What are the most
important events or
milestones leading
up to your role of a
gender conforming
bottle?
I kind of have an opinion about gender, I would say and I
express the opinion through the avour of my perfumes. That’s
made me into a more reective object.
Altered-
presence
Boots
Was it dicult to
nd a time for you
to have this conver-
sation today?
You know, there’s a second lockdown, so I’m only technically
supposed to go out and do my job once a day. I think there’s,
you know, some liberties taken with that.
Altered-
presence
Door
(lock)
Briey describe
what your everyday
routines look like.
How do you feel
about that?
A window was left open, and a huge draft came through and
I was open and then I slammed really hard because this wind
gust went through and then just shattered.
Breaking
silence
Window
What are the things
that catch your at-
tention the longest?
Sometimes I see people, and all Roger notices is that the door-
bell is going, but I see who pressed it.
Spatiality and
distributed
agency
Ear bud
Who is in control?
You or Bob?
I beam him into a dierent place by giving him music or stu
to listen to. That is a quite powerful thing to do.
Navigating
proximity
Thing Questions by Hu-
man Interviewer Responses from Things Emerging
Themes
Toilet
paper
How do you feel
when you go down
the toilet?
I join with a whole lot of other toilet paper. And yeah, I know
it can get a bit smelly, and there are not very nice things that
go down the pipes, but it’s all just a part of life.
Permanence /
Impermanence
Coee
ma-
chine
Are you getting
along with the
kettle?
I don’t like her. She gets to make a lot of tea. More than I get
to make coee. . . Yeah. . . such a pomp! Always bubbling up.
Breaking
silence
CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Reddy, et al.
early work, deictic representations [
5
] focusing on representing
only the relevant entities or parts of the environment according to
the current situation, can be a useful starting point to formulate
thing viewpoints. Understanding what a thing viewpoint would
involve and look like presents an exciting research direction.
What if CAs could learn about the world in a
gradual way through their interaction with hu-
mans?
How else could things communicate their
worldview within minimal knowledge about the out-
side world? What other representations or under-
standings could things employ to communicate ideas?
5.2 Navigating proximity
It is possible to view things on a spectrum of their proximity to hu-
man bodies. While some things may be placed somewhere in space,
others may be wearable on human bodies or even integrated into
them. Changing proximities of things to human bodies may have
direct eects on how humans perceive the world. In our interview
with an earbud, one of our co-authors mentioned how the earbud
has become a part of his body, disappearing from his consciousness:
“It does increasingly feel as part of my ear or hearing sense”. When
combined with a degree of AI, such highly proximate things with
their increasing capacity to alter human perception without us
recognizing it make us think about the power dynamics between
things, their designers and people. Here, little is known about how
such perception-changing capabilities need to be designed and the
extent of thing autonomy and its potential consequences. Ama-
zon Alexa has already been integrated into earbuds [
1
], and there
are possibilities for intelligent things to get much closer and fully
integrated into human bodies such as the case of in-body CAs im-
planted in ear canals as depicted in a speculative AltCHI paper
[
9
]. For instance, a (un)likely scenario may entail the in-body CA
automatically performing noise-cancellation in a loud environment
such as a house party or while driving in trac where loudness is
a necessary social feature of the activity. In addition, such highly
proximate CAs can further raise questions about authenticity and
privacy. It is not hard to imagine a scenario where someone we talk
to can talk back to us through the suggested responses by the in-
body CA, making the human-human conversation potentially less
authentic. The rst signs of such authenticity concerns about CAs
emerged with the Google Assistant’s Duplex feature [
21
] which can
make restaurant bookings on behalf of its users with a remarkable
level of human-like conversational competence and style, similar
to the challenges explored in Our Friends Electric [39].
What if CAs could be smoothly integrated into
our bodies?
Would we be able to dierentiate be-
tween human perceptions and those of CAs? How
would this aect an overall sense of self?
What if CAs could navigate the social dimen-
sions of proximity
along a spectrum ranging from
whispering to screaming?
5.3 Spatiality and distributed agency
The interview with a window highlighted two dierent dimensions
of spatiality: human-thing perceptual gap and thing multiplicity. In
the interview, some responses of the window focused on the percep-
tual gap between humans and things: “Sometimes I see people, and
all Roger notices is that the doorbell is going, but I see who pressed it.
Such perceptual gaps can be a fertile area to design conversations
between humans and things to bridge the gap where needed. One
major factor generating this perceptual gap is thing multiplicity.
While some things at home have a unique singular presence such as
a fridge, some other things may have multiple presences distributed
in dierent sections of a home such as windows or toilet papers.
In the case of windows, they exist almost in every room, and this
provides an opportunity for humans to interact with multiple win-
dows through a single one and for windows to sense the dierent
parts of the environment through the sensory capabilities of all
windows in the same home. This multiplicity will most probably
require people to construct new mental models for the intelligent
conversational things at home. These mental models can be based
on the singular/multiple presence of things and how such localized
or distributed presence can enable some distributed things to have
a collective capacity to sense and act. Specic to the case of win-
dows perceiving multiple sites both inside and outside of a space,
there are also potential privacy and ethical concerns [
12
,
16
]. When
should the distributed capabilities be enabled/constrained, when
and how should such things explicate such capabilities to whom?
In the emerging landscape of distributed CAs in our environment
(from multiplicity of window CAs to benchtop smart speakers to
smart earbuds to potentially in-body CAs), there is room for devel-
oping a thing ecology considering such things’ distribution in the
space, their proximity to human bodies, their degree of autonomy
and intelligence, and their medium of communication that can go
beyond voice conversations. Such an ecology should denitely con-
sider various privacy, safety, and ethical concerns such new things
are likely to bring forth.
What if CAs could talk to one another to bridge
the perceptual gap between humans and spatially
distributed things?
How would we imagine the con-
struction of mental models for things and humans
sharing a collective capacity to perceive and act? Might
we get inspired from trees, fungi or other plant life
to re-imagine how nonhumans things communicate
with each other?
5.4 Breaking silences
While there is often a greater value associated with things that are
silent or noiseless, we found that several co-authors relied heavily
on the sounds things make to impersonate what things do in their
everyday environments. The interview with the coee maker, for
instance, suggests that it made a “kind of quite loud gurgling sound”.
Similarly, the coee machine was compared to the electric kettle,
complaining how the kettle was “always bubbling up”. Even the
door’s interview entailed noises such as the “clicking” of the door
lock and the “shattering” of door’s glass due to a gust of wind.
On a higher level, this conrms what we said previously about
how things are already speaking to us, but digging further reveals
provocative dierences. On the one hand, there are things that
make sounds on account of the designed aordance of the thing,
such as listening to gurgles from a coee maker to know when
Making Everyday Things Talk CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
the coee is ready. On the other hand, things are speaking to us
even when they are not in use. As suggested by one co-author, an
electric kettle or a door are never silent. By paying close attention,
one might hear the AC vibrations pulsing in the power cords or
the silent creaking of the door frame as the wind picks up. These
dierences present an important reection for CAs as they are
designed to remain silent and only respond when spoken to or
used. This perceived ‘silence’ of CAs can be considered unsafe or
creepy as they undeniably listen and perform in response to private
conversations in households [
31
,
32
]. As more and more everyday
things become inscribed into an articial logic that values silence
over noise, our Thing Interviews suggest that the design of CAs
might benet from challenging silence by breaking it on occasion,
in the way that everyday things do [
25
]. But at the same time,
there is a dierence between silence and the perceived inactivity
of nonhuman things, which implies that proactive sound-making
should be aligned with the things’ functionality and purpose or its
role in everyday life and not just for the sake of lling up absences
of sound.
At the same time, we also emphasize that we do not need a
‘human voice’ to have a conversation with things. If gurgles, clicks,
and whooshes are already indications that things converse in their
own non-lexical manner [
22
], then it demands us to rethink how
we make ‘conversation’ in a distributed ecology of humans and
nonhumans. In this matter, one of the co-authors reected on how
dicult it was to impersonate the plant in comparison to the noisy
coee maker. She suggested that living entities, like plants, are
dierent from nonliving things in our homes, and yet might occupy
a similar status. She welcomed the possibility of using AI to listen
to the plant’s veins an idea that takes precedence in people’s
eorts to communicate with plants since the 1970s [3].
What if CAs produced articial sounds to accom-
pany their everyday performances?
What if they
could amplify the sounds they hear from other things?
Which things would be under consideration and when?
What if CAs could understand the non-lexical
sounds of things
that could further expand the scope
and quality of our conversations with things?
5.5 Permanence/Impermanence
In our interviews, some of the things were short-lived and others
had longer life spans as they were handed down over generations.
For example, the tampon and the toilet paper led very short lives
once put to use, and on the other hand, the mug and teapot lasted
longer than their expected single-person use. A thing’s capacity for
(im)permanence partially determines questions about how people
relate to things beyond their use value. As such, discussing things
from the perspective of their permanence and impermanence al-
lowed the co-authors to consider dierent life cycles of things other
than those of humans. Instead of reducing the toilet paper to its
one-time use, one of the co-authors mentioned a life beyond the
ephemeral use of the toilet: “I join with a whole lot of other toilet
paper. And yeah, I know it can get a bit smelly, and there are not very
nice things that go down the pipes, but it’s all just a part of life, [...]
but I’m part of this system which keeps humans healthy, which creates
degradable products that go back into the environment in a way that’s
sustainable”. This interview suggests the idea that a thing can go
beyond its own short lifespan and immediate context associated
with use, and instead connect to its future and past incarnations.
One could imagine that the toilet paper embraces a collective con-
sciousness and continues its sustainable mission through future
toilet papers and transfers its ’experiences’ to next generations.
The conversations with such a thing could then plumb into past
memories of its life processes that humans do not think about or
encounter in their own lifetimes, as projects like Anatomy of an
AI System” carefully remind us [2].
Another way in which impermanence played a role in engaging
a thing’s perspective was related to how the tampon was imagined
to have a desire to experience its own potential: “While I’m still in
my packaging I’ve never been able to explore to see what it is for [...] I
think I’m there in case of emergencies". As this tampon was reserved
for emergencies only, its short life was countered by a longer time
span of waiting for its use. This suggests that the tampon’s essence
rested on what it could potentially do, rather than what it was sup-
posed to do. In contrast to how things are designed, which tends to
assume that maximum use and engagement is always better, the
absence of use in the tampon’s case did not imply its inability to act
or perform. This idea of non-use then challenges how we think of
things that are not used, rarely used, or simply waiting to be used. It
is often found that people feel guilty because they own things they
do not use, particularly CAs. They might even think infrequent use
diminishes its value. In this matter, the tampon’s perspective helps
to understand that short-lived, one-time, infrequent, anticipated,
and rare uses are all part of how people relate to things. The non-
human perspective, thus questions taken-for-granted assumptions
where permanence indicates a positive life-inducing quality, and
conversely, impermanence a sign of fragility and death. In relation
to the latter, the interview with the second-hand teapot that led a
long life over several generations was imagined to be very aware
of its own fragility and embraced how easily it could break and die.
It further suggests how design of CAs can benet from not only
long-term thinking (over generations) but also thinking along the
lines of fewer disposable interactions in the short term [33].
What if CAs could speak about their past?
Could
they express their collective memory, going beyond
their life span? What if CAs were passed on over
generations?
What if CAs take a responsible environmental
role according to their collective consciousness?
What if CAs have more than disposable interac-
tions?
What do more permanent, long lasting inter-
actions look like? What would less permanent, short
lived interactions look like?
5.6 Altered presence
While recognizing the spatial and distributed agencies of things, it
is equally compelling to acknowledge how things inversely aect
the way the outside world perceives us humans. The interview
with the perfume bottle can be presented here as an example of
a thing that is imagined to be aware of how it is complicit with
the way the world perceives the gender of a human. The bottle is
assumed to play an active role in conforming to a human gender:
CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Reddy, et al.
“I kind of have an opinion about gender, I would say and I express the
opinion through the avour of my perfumes. That’s made me into a
more reective object”. This reective quality in the conversation
suggests that things can be imagined to become aware of their
own role and how they might have an altered presence that is
more attuned to the social and moral context they are part of. This
quality was also explicit in the interview with the boots. The boots
reected on sharing its agency with the human by being complicit
in breaking the law that requires people to stay at home during the
COVID-19 pandemic: “You know, there’s a second lockdown, so I’m
only technically supposed to go out and do my job once a day. I think
there’s, you know, some liberties taken with that”. These reective
tensions point to the fact that conversations with things are not
only a matter of distributed agency, but they are also socially and
morally suspect in their lived contexts.
Reecting back on existing CAs and its multiple instantiations
(one for the kitchen, one for the living room, one in the car, and one
for the ear), they hold some responsibility for the outside world’s
perception of humans with respect to norms, laws, and (un)accepted
practices taking place across their distributed spatiality. CAs might
then require a level of socio-cultural sensitivity to perceive the
impact they have on humans in morally sensitive situations that
can inform the conversation.
What if CAs could reect on the impact they
have on morally sensitive human situations
to
make conversation? How might their altered pres-
ence trigger human awareness of it?
6 CONCLUSION
Our main intention was to investigate what might happen if ev-
eryday things had a voice, one that was not limited by experiences
we currently have with CAs for talking to things at home. We
wanted to know what conversations we could have with them
and how our relationships would change as a result. We set out to
use a more-than-human design approach to explore other forms
of intelligence and communication and speculate on future voice
interfaces. However, by stepping into the thing’s shoes, we real-
ized that our original intention was missing a fundamental un-
derstanding of human and thing relationships. As a result, our
focus shifted from what and how everyday things with voice inter-
faces could be designed to that of emergent qualities of people’s
existing relationships with everyday things as an inspiration for
intelligent CAs. In other words, we needed to re-discover relation-
ships to and of things before we could think of their voice-based
interactions. The Thing Interviews method allowed ‘conversation’
to become the channel through which we could get to know ev-
eryday things and imagine future possibilities when these things
have higher degrees of intelligence, agency, and communication
capabilities.
One of the constraints of the speculative Thing Interviews method
is that we privileged human voice and human-like interview set-
tings over approaching things in their ordinary settings alongside
their everyday performances. This led the co-authors to go back
and forth between imagining the thing’s perspective and projecting
their own human perspective onto the thing in their conversations.
Therefore, there are many ethical considerations that deserve more
scrutiny within a more-than-human framework. Another limita-
tion is that our analysis was informed by our cultural backgrounds,
and the selection of things and the resulting conversations can be
purview to other interpretations and insights.
For extending the more-than-human framework, we see two
opportunities emerging from it. One opportunity could be to de-
liberately deconstruct and separate the two perspectives, which
could allow researchers to engage in more critical inquiries around
when, or in which situations, a thing perspective could become
more visible to us. This tactic might be helpful to further tackle
questions of anthropomorphism and thing intentionality [
4
], the
post-phenomenology of things [43], or object personication [42]
and mechanical sympathy [
11
]. The other opportunity is to imag-
ine an additive tactic that embraces the plural and meshed en-
tanglements of human and thing perspectives. This could lead to
new and/or strengthened relationships between humans and non-
humans to create new conditions of possibility. It could further
inform researchers engaging with feminist care practices [
34
], co-
performance between human and things [
23
], and neo-animism in
human-thing relations [28].
To conclude, making everyday things talk is a speculative and
investigative exercise in challenging our ideas about intelligent
things that talk, going beyond the conversations we already have
with current voice interfaces. The imaginary conversations with
the things, from mugs and teapots that make us think about thing
(im)permanence to coee makers and doors that break the silence
to perfume bottles and boots that alter our presence to earbuds and
windows that navigate distributed agency, allowed us to character-
ize the emerging space of relations between people and everyday
things. Through these themes, we raised provocations that cover
an array of spatial, temporal, moral, social, and environmental con-
siderations. We believe the themes are preliminary steps to explore
this design space and inspire future research on designing everyday
conversational things at home.
REFERENCES
[1]
[n.d.]. Amazon.com: Echo Buds Wireless earbuds with immersive sound, active
noise reduction, and Alexa: Amazon Devices. https://www.amazon.com/Echo-
Buds/dp/B07F6VM1S3
[2] [n.d.]. Anatomy of an AI System. http://www.anatomyof.ai
[3]
[n.d.]. BAMBOO BASIC - Portable device. https://www.musicoftheplants.com/
shop-online/bamboo- basic/
[4]
Alison Adam. 2008. Ethics for things. Ethics and Information Technology 10, 2-3
(Sept. 2008), 149–154. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-008- 9169-3
[5]
Philip E. Agre and David Chapman. 1990. What are plans for? Robotics and
Autonomous Systems 6, 1-2 (June 1990), 17–34. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0921-
8890(05)80026-0
[6]
Haider Akmal and Paul Coulton. 2020. The Divination of Things by Things. In
Extended Abstracts of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing
Systems (CHI EA ’20). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA,
1–12. https://doi.org/10.1145/3334480.3381823
[7]
Jane Bennett. 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. (Jan. 2010).
https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822391623
[8]
Hilary Bergen. 2016. ‘I’d blush if i could’: Digital assistants, disembodied cyborgs
and the problem of gender. Word and Text 6 (Dec. 2016), 95–113.
[9]
Oğuz ’Oz’ Buruk, Oğuzhan Özcan, Gökçe Elif Baykal, Tilbe Göksun, Selçuk
Acar, Güler Akduman, Mehmet Aydın Baytaş, Ceylan Beşevli, Joe Best, Aykut
Coşkun, Hüseyin Uğur Genç, A. Baki Kocaballi, Samuli Laato, Cássia Mota,
Konstantinos Papangelis, Marigo Raftopoulos, Richard Ramchurn, Juan Sádaba,
Mattia Thibault, Annika Wol, and Mert Yildiz. 2020. Children in 2077: Designing
Children’s Technologies in the Age of Transhumanism. In Extended Abstracts
of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA
’20). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1–14. https:
//doi.org/10.1145/3334480.3381821
Making Everyday Things Talk CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
[10]
Susanne Bødker. 2006. When second wave HCI meets third wave challenges. In
Proceedings of the 4th Nordic conference on Human-computer interaction: changing
roles (NordiCHI ’06). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA,
1–8. https://doi.org/10.1145/1182475.1182476
[11]
Hugh M. Cartwright. 2020. Chapter 5. Machine Learning in Science A Role
for Mechanical Sympathy? In Theoretical and Computational Chemistry Series,
Hugh M Cartwright (Ed.). Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, 109–135.
https://doi.org/10.1039/9781839160233-00109
[12]
Yu-Ting Cheng, Mathias Funk, Wenn-Chieh Tsai, and Lin-Lin Chen. 2019. Peeka-
boo Cam: Designing an Observational Camera for Home Ecologies Concerning
Privacy. In Proceedings of the 2019 on Designing Interactive Systems Conference
(DIS ’19). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 823–836.
https://doi.org/10.1145/3322276.3323699
[13]
Rachel Clarke, Sara Heitlinger, Marcus Foth, Carl DiSalvo, Ann Light, and Laura
Forlano. 2018. More-than-human urban futures: speculative participatory design
to avoid ecocidal smart cities. In Proceedings of the 15th Participatory Design
Conference: Short Papers, Situated Actions, Workshops and Tutorial - Volume 2
(PDC ’18). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, N Y, USA, 1–4.
https://doi.org/10.1145/3210604.3210641
[14]
Paul Coulton and Joseph Galen Lindley. 2019. More-Than Human Centred
Design: Considering Other Things. The Design Journal 22, 4 (July 2019), 463–
481. https://doi.org/10.1080/14606925.2019.1614320 Publisher: Routledge _eprint:
https://doi.org/10.1080/14606925.2019.1614320.
[15]
Kristin N. Dew and Daniela K. Rosner. 2018. Lessons from the Woodshop: Culti-
vating Design with Living Materials. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference
on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’18). Association for Computing
Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1145/3173574.3174159
[16]
Batya Friedman, Peter H. Kahn, Jennifer Hagman, Rachel L. Severson, and Brian
Gill. 2008. The watcher and the watched: social judgments about privacy in a
public place. Human-Computer Interaction 21, 2 (May 2008), 235–272. https:
//doi.org/10.1207/s15327051hci2102_3
[17]
Elisa Giaccardi. 2020. Casting Things As Partners In Design: Toward A
More-Than-Human Design Practice. In Relating to Things : Design, Technology
and the Articial (1 ed.), Heather Wiltse (Ed.). Bloomsbury Visual Arts, London„
99–132. http://www.bloomsburycollections.com/book/relating-to- things-
design-technology- and-the- articial/ch6- casting-things- as-partners-in-
design-toward- a-more- than-human-design- practice/
[18]
Elisa Giaccardi, Nazli Cila, Chris Speed, and Melissa Caldwell. 2016. Thing
Ethnography: Doing Design Research with Non-Humans. In Proceedings of the
2016 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS ’16). Association for
Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 377–387. https://doi.org/10.1145/
2901790.2901905
[19]
Elisa Giaccardi and Johan Redström. 2020. Technology and More-Than-Human
Design. Design Issues 36, 4 (Sept. 2020), 33–44. https://doi.org/10.1162/desi_a_
00612 Publisher: MIT Press.
[20]
Elisa Giaccardi, Christopher Speed, Nazli Cila, and M. Caldwell. 2016. Things as co-
ethnographers. In Implications of a thing perspective for design and anthropology.
Bloomsbury Academic, 235–248. https://doi.org/10.5040/9781474280617.ch-015
[21]
Jacob Kastrenakes. 2020. Google starts rolling out Duplex feature that can call sa-
lons to book a haircut for you. https://www.theverge.com/2020/10/13/21514427/
google-duplex- haircut-booking-feature- rolling-out- robot-natural-voice
[22]
Jieun Kim, Woochan Kim, Jungwoo Nam, and Hayeon Song. 2020. "I Can Feel
Your Empathic Voice": Eects of Nonverbal Vocal Cues in Voice User Interface.
In Extended Abstracts of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing
Systems (CHI EA ’20). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA,
1–8. https://doi.org/10.1145/3334480.3383075
[23]
Lenneke Kuijer and Elisa Giaccardi. 2018. Co-performance: Conceptualizing the
Role of Articial Agency in the Design of Everyday Life. In Proceedings of the 2018
CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’18). Association
for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1145/
3173574.3173699
[24]
Szu-Yu (Cyn) Liu, Shaowen Bardzell, and Jerey Bardzell. 2019. Symbiotic Encoun-
ters: HCI and Sustainable Agriculture. In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference
on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’19). Association for Computing
Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1145/3290605.3300547
[25]
Dan Lockton, Flora Bowden, Clare Brass, and Rama Gheerawo. 2014. Bird-
Wattching: Exploring Sonication of Home Electricity Use with Birdsong. (2014).
https://doi.org/10.13140/2.1.3706.0489 Publisher: Unpublished.
[26]
Michal Luria, Judeth Oden Choi, Rachel Gita Karp, John Zimmerman, and Jodi For-
lizzi. 2020. Robotic Futures: Learning about Personally-Owned Agents through
Performance. In Proceedings of the 2020 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Con-
ference (DIS ’20). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA,
165–177. https://doi.org/10.1145/3357236.3395488
[27]
Cecily Maller and Yolande Strengers (Eds.). 2019. Social Practices and Dynamic
Non-Humans: Nature, Materials and Technologies (1st ed. 2019 ed.). Springer
International Publishing : Imprint: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/
10.1007/978-3- 319-92189- 1
[28]
Betti Marenko. 2014. Neo-Animism and Design: A New Paradigm in Object Theory.
Vol. 6. https://doi.org/10.2752/175470814X14031924627185
[29]
Dave Murray-Rust, Katerina Gorkovenko, Dan Burnett, and Daniel Richards.
2019. Entangled Ethnography: Towards a collective future understanding. In
Proceedings of the Halfway to the Future Symposium 2019 (HTTF 2019). Association
for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1145/
3363384.3363405
[30]
Iohanna Nicenboim, Elisa Giaccardi, Marie Louise Juul Søndergaard, Anu-
radha Venugopal Reddy, Yolande Strengers, James Pierce, and Johan Redström.
2020. More-Than-Human Design and AI: In Conversation with Agents. In Com-
panion Publication of the 2020 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference
(DIS’ 20 Companion). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA,
397–400. https://doi.org/10.1145/3393914.3395912
[31]
Emmi Parviainen and Marie Louise Juul Søndergaard. 2020. Experiential Qualities
of Whispering with Voice Assistants. In Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference
on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’20). Association for Computing
Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1145/3313831.3376187
[32]
James Pierce. 2019. Smart Home Security Cameras and Shifting Lines of Creepi-
ness: A Design-Led Inquiry. In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human
Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’19). Association for Computing Machinery,
New York, NY, USA, 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1145/3290605.3300275
[33]
James Pierce and Eric Paulos. 2015. Making Multiple Uses of the Obscura 1C
Digital Camera: Reecting on the Design, Production, Packaging and Distribution
of a Counterfunctional Device. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference
on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’15). Association for Computing
Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 2103–2112. https://doi.org/10.1145/2702123.
2702405
[34]
María Puig de la Bellacasa. 2017. Matters of care: speculative ethics in more than
human worlds. Number 41 in Posthumanities. University of Minnesota Press,
Minneapolis.
[35]
Iyad Rahwan, Manuel Cebrian, Nick Obradovich, Josh Bongard, Jean-François
Bonnefon, Cynthia Breazeal, Jacob W. Crandall, Nicholas A. Christakis, Iain D.
Couzin, Matthew O. Jackson, Nicholas R. Jennings, Ece Kamar, Isabel M.
Kloumann, Hugo Larochelle, David Lazer, Richard McElreath, Alan Mislove,
David C. Parkes, Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland, Margaret E. Roberts, Azim Shari,
Joshua B. Tenenbaum, and Michael Wellman. 2019. Machine behaviour. Nature
568, 7753 (April 2019), 477–486. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019- 1138-y
[36]
Anuradha Reddy, Iohanna Nicenboim, James Pierce, and Elisa Giaccardi. 2020.
Encountering ethics through design: a workshop with nonhuman participants.
AI & SOCIETY (Nov. 2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-020-01088- 7
[37]
Johan Redström and Heather Wiltse. 2018. Changing Things: the Future of Objects
in a Virtual World. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, London. http://public.eblib.
com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=5516511 OCLC: 1054054026.
[38]
Stuart Reeves, Martin Porcheron, and Joel Fischer. 2018. ’This is not what we
wanted’: designing for conversation with voice interfaces. Interactions 26, 1 (Dec.
2018), 46–51. https://doi.org/10.1145/3296699
[39]
Jon Rogers, Loraine Clarke, Martin Skelly, Nick Taylor, Pete Thomas, Michelle
Thorne, Solana Larsen, Katarzyna Odrozek, Julia Kloiber, Peter Bihr, Anab Jain,
Jon Arden, and Max von Grafenstein. 2019. Our Friends Electric: Reections on
Advocacy and Design Research for the Voice Enabled Internet. In Proceedings
of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’19).
Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1–13. https://doi.
org/10.1145/3290605.3300344
[40]
Nick Seaver. 2017. Algorithms as culture: Some tactics for the ethnography
of algorithmic systems. Big Data & Society 4, 2 (Dec. 2017), 205395171773810.
https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951717738104
[41]
Ron Wakkary, Doenja Oogjes, Sabrina Hauser, Henry Lin, Cheng Cao, Leo Ma,
and Tijs Duel. 2017. Morse Things: A Design Inquiry into the Gap Between
Things and Us. In Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on Designing Interactive
Systems (DIS ’17). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA,
503–514. https://doi.org/10.1145/3064663.3064734
[42]
RC White and A Remington. 2018. Object personication in autism: This paper
will be very sad if you donâ
€™
t read it. Autism 23, 4 (2018), 1042–1045. Publisher:
Autism.
[43]
Peter Wohlleben, Jane Billinghurst, and Peter Wohlleben. 2018. The hidden life of
trees: the illustrated edition. OCLC: 1028637835.
CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Reddy, et al.
A APPENDIX: CONVERSATION TRANSCRIPTS
A.1 Mug
Questions by Human
Interviewer Responses from Things
Do you remember your
maker?
Very vaguely, very vaguely. I remember a feeling of being pulled into shape, and then I
remember being a very, very hot space and feeling myself getting stronger and harder, and
then cooling and getting put on the shelf. But no, I don’t really have a strong memory of
my maker, but I do have a vague memory of the sensation of being pulled into the shape
that I am.
Now the main thing that
you do is hold tea?
Well, I’m usually on the shelf in the cupboard, so he’ll open the cupboard and get me
down and put me on the counter. In the photo, I’m sitting there next to the kettle and the
tea canister, and there’s some rustling around and the sound of the water boiling. And
then my friend Teapot, who I see every day, she gets lled up with water and a couple of
teabags, and then we sort of sit around and wait, you know, maybe for 3 or 4 minutes and
I can hear one of the other humans rustling around but Teapot, I can feel the heat starting
to radiate from her body.
What’s your routine?
Teapot pours some tea into me, and I’m carried into the bedroom where my main human
then lets me sit next to the bed for a little while to cool down a little bit. And then she lifts
me to her mouth and I often hear her go hmmmmm, like that. And that’s when I know
I’ve done a good thing and it makes me feel really, really happy to hear that sound and go
through that routine.
A.2 Tampon
Questions by Human
Interviewer Responses from Things
What about the other
things in your section?
You’ve got some friends
in there?
Yes, I’ve got antihistamine tablets—but they are very transient. They come and go. She’s
always reaching for the anti-histamine tablets. The other thing that’s a good friend of mine
is lip gloss (lip moisturizer) who is always there. And a new addition is hand sanitizer.
Do you feel like you’re
waiting to be used?
What else am I for? One must have a purpose. I can see that there are so many facets of
me that I’ve never been able to explore. I have a string at the back of me, that while I’m
still in my packaging I’ve never been able to explore to see what it is for. I feel like I’ve got
a lot of potential or growth.. (*winks*)
What do you think
you’re used for?
I feel like. . . I’m not 100 percent sure what I’m for but I know I’m important. Otherwise,
why would she take me around everywhere? I think I’m there in case of emergencies. It’s
comforting to know that if she really needed me, I’d be there.
Making Everyday Things Talk CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
A.3 Plant
Questions by Human
Interviewer Responses from Things
You know you can see
other plants out of the
window. Do they see you
as well? Are they your
friends?
I mean, I don’t know, the plants outside seem to be moving with the wind and maybe they
have a perception of the world outside that I don’t see but I get to see the buses and that’s
really interesting and then I also see what happens inside this House.
Tell me about what you
see inside.
Anna is working here much more than before. Sometimes I can’t see her face because
there is this kind of silver vertical thing that has some kind of fruit on it, I noticed that
other plants also have fruits. This metallic thing sometimes covers her face. She chats
sometimes to this thing, but I don’t see anybody else. So, it’s a bit strange.
What expressions do you
see on her face, or is the
metallic thing covering
her?
Sometimes she looks a bit worried or tired from sitting in front of the metallic thing. And
it’s a bit strange. Sometimes she waters me if she has some leftover water which is really
nice. But then she puts the water really far away from that metallic thing and I. . . I don’t
understand, because you know I really like water and I think everything could have more
water.
A.4 Coee maker
Questions by Human
Interviewer Responses from Things
Are you a noisy coee
maker?
Yeah, I make a kind of quite loud gurgling sound when I’m making coee for people. It’s
loud enough for John to notice that I’m ready.
So that’s your way of
having a voice of an-
nouncing “pay attention
to me!”?
Yes, exactly. There’s a few times that he’s opened the lid of me while I’m making coee,
you know, just to check on me, that I’m doing OK. And it startled me and I sprayed coee
out all over the place, which was quite funny for me really. It was my way of saying, John,
be patient until I’m ready.
[...] it must have been
nice for you to show how
you function and do your
full performance for him.
Yeah, it was really nice. It makes me think I’d love to have a transparent lid or upper half
so that people could see what I do because you know I’m actually quite impressive, but
it’s all hidden away.
And I guess, do you pro-
duce a nice smell? I ll the at with the smell of coee in a really quite delightful way, at least I think so.
[...] you seem to have a
strong presence, because
you make noise and then
you show your perfor-
mance and then you have
the smell.
Yeah, maybe I was being too meek and humble about myself. I’m certainly central to a lot
of what John does every day.
CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Reddy, et al.
A.5 Teapot
Questions by Human
Interviewer Responses from Things
As I understand this is
not your rst owner. So,
do you have a previous
owner, and do you re-
member your previous
owner?
Well, before I came to this house, I did have an owner, but I was in storage. So, I didn’t
really have a house but I was in a storage facility, in a box with all the other parts, of the
tea set I belong to. So we were together. I never really saw that owner. Before that, I lived
with another lady in another city who had purchased the entire set, so when she moved,
we moved to the storage facility. In the storage, things got mended sometimes, things were
glued, but I saw that for other materials, less so when you’re ceramic.
So do you know what
happened to the other
cups and saucers in your
set?
Uhm, yeah, I left them behind in the second-hand shop. So, the only thing that came with
me was the holder, with the tealight. I really remember this conversation my current
owner had with the shop owner, the seller, because they didn’t know my price yet, apart
from the tea set. Once they knew the price, my owner decided to only take me. It’s ne
with me, I now have dierently styled cups around me. I don’t know if my previous set is
still in that same store. Perhaps.
Do you think about death
and are you afraid of dy-
ing?
Yes, denitely. You know, I think when I would die, which for me is breaking, it’s quite a
painful process because I only really die when I hit a hard object. There is no other way of
dying for me. So yes, I know how this is going to happen already... In my current home
we came close a few times, so I kind of saw my death already. I know she won’t put me
together. I never saw her repair anything. I think when I break it’s all over for me.
A.6 Perfume bottle (gender conforming)
Questions by Human
Interviewer Responses from Things
Can you describe your
three worst qualities? I tend to be very indecisive, I cannot make up my mind and I am very unpredictable.
How would you describe
the unpredictability?
Just like human beings have mood swings that change from day to day, my mood and my
behaviour changes from day to day.
What are the most impor-
tant events or milestones
leading up to your role of
a gender conforming bot-
tle?
What made me become a gender conforming bottle is that I saw the experience of my
owner navigating her own gender identity. This led me to question my own gender and
led me to the point I am today. I kind of have an opinion about gender, I would say and I
express the opinion through the avour of my perfumes. That’s made into a more reective
object.
Making Everyday Things Talk CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
A.7 Boots (wellies)
Questions by Human
Interviewer Responses from Things
I just wanted to, um, was
it dicult to nd a time
Well, you know, it has been, it has been busy lately. Things have been picking up, um, I’m
for you to have this con-
getting a lot of use, but at the same time, you know, there’s a second lockdown, so I’m
versation today? Were only technically supposed to go out and do my job once a day. Um, I think there’s, you
you able to move things
know, some liberties taken with that.
around in your schedule?
Oh, really?
Well, I think, you know, um, the humans have their own sort of mental health needs and I,
you know, my job is sort of to support them in that also. And, um, you know, I get them
out into the green spaces, I get them out into the wild spaces and I think that’s you know,
the best thing I can do.
It sounds like you are
complicit in some vio-
lation of breaking the
law. How does that how
does that make you feel?
It doesn’t seem like it’s
Oh, it’s completely out of my control. I mean, I guess I could, you know, maybe try and
trip them up or spring a leak. I think if I was a leaky boot, then I wouldn’t have to be, you
know, as you say used in that way.
your choice to be a law
abiding thing or not.
Does it feel like it’s kind
of a supercial relation-
ship if you’re only valued
for how you, how you
look?
Well, I don’t think it’s only that. I think maybe that’s sort of, I think that’s part of how it
started, but now I think it has more to do with where I take them. I’m more of a conduit,
intermediary, sort of thing.
CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Reddy, et al.
A.8 Door (lock)
Questions by Human
Interviewer Responses from Things
Could you just briey de-
scribe what your every-
day routines and tasks
sort of look like?
When the work from home and the lockdown stu started, I wasn’t getting used very
much at all. I’m used to kind of irregular in and out, in and out, and the clicking, but there
came a period of time where I just wasn’t being used at all.
How do you feel about
that?
I don’t know if you saw the glass behind me, but it shattered recently. These people
are hanging out at home way more than they usually do and are trying to make it more
comfortable for themselves or something. But then, you know, they didn’t really understand
the physics of pressurization and a window was left open, and a huge draft came through
and I was open and then I slammed really hard because this wind gust went through and
then just shattered. And it’s just shameful because here I am looking like a real myth. I
mean, it’s weird. It’s when these people live their normal lines, I seem to work better. And
then when they’re stuck here, it’s a site of conict.
So what do you think,
you said it would be
maybe nice someday to
get a facelift or have
some more substantial
maintenance done. Do
you think that that would
change who you are?
And I suppose, do you
ever have a worry that
if things get so bad that
you might be entirely re-
placed, say the wood on
the door frame, are you
screwed in?
I’ve noticed that some of my cousins, the windows in this place, they have been also
replaced recently and they’ve been screwed in, but you know, it’s like asking someone to
look at their own bones. I haven’t seen it myself until my cousins get disassembled. I’m
only speculating here, but it’s weird. I feel kind of like my time’s coming and it’s going to
happen soon. I just don’t know how much longer I feel kind of precarious. Am I going to
break more? how long am I going to be left waiting here? But some things will remain the
same. If you have cut o all your hair and it grows again, are you still the same person? I
heard humans, all of their cells replace themselves every, every seven years. And maybe
it’s like that for me too, but just like a dierent time timeline, you know? Uh, I have been
around here for gosh, since this building was built 25 years ago or something. So, you
know, it might not be every seven years that I replaced myself, but not so dissimilar, I
guess, from humans.
A.9 Window
Questions by Human
Interviewer Responses from Things
The rst is, when do
you wish you could close
your eyes?
I wish I could take a little break during the long day. And I have to rely on my human
friend to use the curtains to close my eyes. And he doesn’t do that very often. In fact, he
tends to leave my eyelids open, particularly at night, but he does turn o the light in the
room, which makes it easy for me to rest.
What are the things that
catch your attention for
the longest?
I really like looking the other way behind me where I see into his front garden and I see
the people visiting the house. Sometimes I wink at a post man who drops o things on
a daily basis. And sometimes I see people and and and all Roger notices maybe at the
doorbell going, but I see who pressed it. And it’s quite nice having foresight and backsight.
I can think, I can see in both directions.
Making Everyday Things Talk CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
A.10 Ear bud
Questions by Human
Interviewer Responses from Things
Where is home?
At rst my box was home. It is comfortably moulded, it is peaceful, revitalising there. But
now that I am thinking about it, I think that I increasingly feel that Bob’s ear is home too.
I have a smug t in his ear. And as I have the raising suspicion that Bob regards me as a
kind of extension of his body. This makes me feel more at home in his ear.
Who is in control? You or
Bob?
It’s pretty much Bob. He takes me out of the box whenever he likes. He puts me back if
he doesn’t need me anymore. He tosses me in his pocket or even loses me. He chooses
what I play. He is pretty much in control. But then again I have mics, and I can let through
ambient noises from the street to his ear if he listens to me. Or shut him o the environment
completely. I beat him into a dierent place by giving him music or stu to listen to. That
is a quite powerful thing to do. What you hear or how much you hear is quite a powerful
thing, you know?
A.11 Toilet paper
Questions by Human
Interviewer Responses from Things
You’re in a bit of a precar-
ious position, aren’t you?
Well not really actually. I feel like my status has, you know, really improved lately. People
really want me now. They used to take me for granted, you know, and I’m actually feeling
pretty special to be honest.
Is that reected in your
relationships with your
owners?
I try not to have relationships, I mean I’m here for such a short time. I think of myself like
a stream, or like food, or something that can be replaced. I don’t feel sad that I’ll be gone
in, oh, I’d say a day or so, looking by the size of me. It’s like I’m part of something bigger,
because there’s so many of me and we keep getting replaced. It’s a good feeling, to be part
of something that’s bigger than yourself.
So you don’t feel dispos-
able, do you?
Well I think that’s quite a human way of looking at me. Because humans, you attach all
this meaning to longevity and to sustainability, whereas my whole purpose is to be here
for a eeting moment, and then to leave, and to be replaced by something else. Ok, so I’m
replaceable, but I don’t see that as a negative thing, I just see that as part of my normal
lifecycle.
How do you feel when
you go down the toilet?
Well I just think of it as the next stage of life, you know, maybe humans think about it in
terms of, you go to a better place. For me, I join with a whole lot of other toilet paper. And
yeah, I know that it can get a bit smelly, and there are not very nice things that go down
the pipes, but it’s all just a part of life, and it’s only disgusting if you’re a human I think . . .
because humans associate all of that with waste, but I’m part of this system which keeps
humans healthy, which creates degradable products that go back into the environment in
a way that’s sustainable. So I feel like I have a really clear purpose.
CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Reddy, et al.
A.12 Coee machine
Questions by Human
Interviewer Responses from Things
Do you like your rou-
tine?
Oh, I’m quite new in the house. So I don’t feel like I settled into a routine yet. I don’t
feel like people around me have settled into a routine around me. Did I end up in a good
house? Did they really want me? It’s been a couple of weeks already.
Are you getting along
with the kettle?
I don’t like her. She gets to make a lot of tea. More than I get to make coee. . . such a
pomp! Always bubbling up.
What do you think about
the cups?
I think the cups are really nice and fun. I just wish I could interact with them more. I don’t
get to make so much coee and cappuccino, and I get so excited when one of the cups
comes over, and I get to make a nice cappuccino. I just wish I could party with them a
little more, doesn’t happen very often.
... While workshops with other researchers are incredibly common, as conference activities (e.g., [7]), to pilot methods, share practices (e.g., [47]), develop new directions (e.g., [102]) etc. they are less commonly reported in archival publications (see e.g., [11,92,128] as notable exceptions). One related trend in HCI is for small groups of scholars to engage in collective refection, retrospective, or ethnography (e.g., [13,40,55,68,127]) as part of a refective practice to "re-understand their own role in the technology design process" and "uncover and alter the limitations of design practice" [98:7]. ...
... Michael Beach, a PhD student and researcher in the College of Engineering at the University of Washington, has facilitated research on the UX of climate change [21], and has used posthumanist theory to facilitate and design a collection of design fctions Cayla Key et al. or multispecies care and collaborative survival [22]. Dr. Anuradha Venugopal Reddy, a postdoctoral design researcher in the School of Arts and Communication at Malmö University, explores technological interventions such as AI and CA's from a non-human perspective to reimagine more-than-human approaches to ethics [87] and agency [92]. Dr. Ron Wakkary is a design researcher in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University and the Chair of Design for More Than Human-Centered Worlds at Eindhoven University of Technology. ...
... (In some ways, thought experiments such as Rawls' 'veil of ignorance' [93] also fit here). Perhaps along the lines of Reddy et al's work on 'making everyday things talk' [94], in which people adopt the voice of different objects in their domestic environment to shift perspectives on conversational technologies, or Alves-Oliveira et al's work on new metaphors for robots [3] we can imagine an activity where participants role-play different presences in the home (or in their lives in other ways). ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Our everyday technologies could have appeared terrifying to our ancestors: instantaneous disembodied communication, access to knowledge, objects with ‘intelligence’ that talk to us (and each other). Black boxes and intangible entities are omnipresent in our homes and lives without our necessarily understanding the hidden flows of data, unknown agendas, imaginary clouds, and mysterious rules that govern them. Have humanity's ways of relating to the unknown throughout history gone away, or have they perhaps transmuted into new forms? In an ongoing project, we have inventoried examples, encounters and reflections on contemporary technology, framed through the perspective of the haunted, spectral and otherworldly. In this paper, we excerpt this collection to illustrate the value and opportunity of an unfamiliar, disquieting perspective in helping to frame the frictions, beliefs and myths that are emerging around interactions with everyday technologies. We posit and demonstrate ‘spooky technology’ as an accessible framework to reflect and respond to our increasingly entangled relationships with technology.
... Scholars have also highlighted the politics and ethics of MTHD, with issues of participation [10], supporting values such as equality and justice, and including perspectives (humans and nonhumans) that have been traditionally ignored in design processes [1,16]. Some of these issues were highlighted in various design fictions [11,34,35,38,39]. ...
Conference Paper
The last decade has witnessed the expansion of design space to include the epistemologies and methodologies of more-than-human design (MTHD). Design researchers and practitioners have been in- creasingly studying, designing for, and designing with nonhumans. This panel will bring together HCI experts who work on MTHD with different nonhumans as their subjects. Panelists will engage the audience through discussion of their shared and diverging vi- sions, perspectives, and experiences, and through suggestions for opportunities and challenges for the future of MTHD. The panel will provoke the audience into reflecting on how the emergence of MTHD signals a paradigm shift in HCI and human-centered design, what benefits this shift might bring and whether MTH should become the mainstream approach, as well as how to involve nonhumans in design and research.
... These gaps have been highlighted in critiques of intimacy in HCI (e.g., [4] [30]), along with methodological issues ( [21] [36] ). Our paper begins to explore an inclusive approach to intimacy which includes friendship and other forms of kinship, such as connections with strangers and with the more-than-human, such as everyday items, voice assistants, etc. [43]. We engage diverse approaches to design futuring to explore these less-conventional understandings of intimacy such as with friends, strangers, pets, nature, and the self. ...
... The human impersonating sand builds on their obviously limited access to how the world is for sand, and their knowledge about how sand is handled, used, transported, and its value in production processes combined with a huge amount of imagination, allows plausible, although fictive and speculative, immersions into the sand's perspective. Another point of reference for adopting other-than-human perspectives is the design method "Interview with Things" (Chang et al., 2017;Reddy et al., 2021). Similar to the "Everything is Alive" interviews, it builds on impersonating things in interviews to explore everyday sociomaterial networks in which the things are operating. ...
Book
Full-text available
In this book, we compare and contrast the various forms of play that occur in urban environments or are dedicated to their design and planning, with the notion of the playable city. In a playable city, the sensors, actuators, and digital communication networks that form the backbone of smart city infrastructure are used to create novel interfaces and interventions intended to inject fun and playfulness into the urban environment, both as a simple source of pleasure and as a means of facilitating and fostering urban and social interactions.
... The human impersonating sand builds on their obviously limited access to how the world is for sand, and their knowledge about how sand is handled, used, transported, and its value in production processes combined with a huge amount of imagination, allows plausible, although fictive and speculative, immersions into the sand's perspective. Another point of reference for adopting other-than-human perspectives is the design method "Interview with Things" (Chang et al., 2017;Reddy et al., 2021). Similar to the "Everything is Alive" interviews, it builds on impersonating things in interviews to explore everyday sociomaterial networks in which the things are operating. ...
Article
Full-text available
Prompted by Catch the Bus, an experimental street game design project with and for autonomous buses, this study explores strategies to substantiate the speculation about other-than-human perspectives. It builds on philosophical arguments about the role of species similarity in grasping nonhuman experience and applies these arguments to thing perspectives. Gameplay and props from Catch the Bus instantiate a kind of similarity between human players and autonomous buses that emerges through the adoption of certain choreographies and sensing capabilities. The study contributes theoretical arguments to the debate of other-than-human perspectives in more-than-human design.
Article
This article introduces “digital technography” as a methodology to interrogate and voice emerging digital technologies and their anticipated futures. I demonstrate, with reference to recent research on wearable self-tracking devices, digital food technologies, and platforms for work automation, how one can gain an understanding of these technologies by attending to the materials in which they are promoted; and actively engaging with them imaginatively and self-reflexively as a social scientist. This article outlines a digital technographic methodology centered around the three conceptual anchors of specification, valorization, and anticipation, all of which pertain to how a digital technology aims and perhaps even aspires to become a part of everyday life.
Article
Full-text available
What if we began to speculate that intelligent things have an ethical agenda? Could we then imagine ways to move past the moral divide ‘human vs. nonhuman’ in those contexts, where things act on our behalf? Would this help us better address matters of agency and responsibility in the design and use of intelligent systems? In this article, we argue that if we fail to address intelligent things as objects that deserve moral consideration by their relations within a broad social context, we will lack a grip on the distinct ethical rules governing our interaction with intelligent things, and how to design for it. We report insights from a workshop, where we take seriously the perspectives offered by intelligent things, by allowing unforeseen ethical situations to emerge in an improvisatory manner. By giving intelligent things an active role in interaction, our participants seemed to be activated by the artifacts, provoked to act and respond to things beyond the artifact itself—its direct functionality and user experience. The workshop helped to consider autonomous behavior not as a simplistic exercise of anthropomorphization, but within the more significant ecosystems of relations, practices and values of which intelligent things are a part.
Article
Full-text available
Are we reaching the limits of what human-centered and user-centered design can cope with? Developing new design methodologies and tools to unlock the potentials of data technologies such as the Internet of Things, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence for the everyday job of design is necessary but not sufficient. There is now a need to fundamentally question what happens when human-centered design is unable to effectively give form to technology, why this might be the case, and where we could look for alternatives.
Preprint
Full-text available
This one-day workshop brings together HCI researchers, designers, and practitioners to explore how to study and design (with) AI agents from a more-than-human design perspective. We invite participants to experiment with thing ethnography and material speculations, as a starting point to map and possibly integrate emergent frameworks and methodologies for more-than-human design. By using conversational agents as a case, participants will discuss what a more-than-human approach can offer to the understanding and design of AI systems, and how this aligns with third-wave HCI concerns of networks, infrastructures, and ecologies.
<