The Mexican Social Media Politics Information Warfare

The Mexican Social Media Politics Information Warfare

From #PeñaBots to Soap Operas, An Information Warfare in Mexican Politics

A few days ago, I re-posted a small article about Mexican populism and the foreseeing incursion of social media by politicians. The short piece discussed the role that tweets and Facebook posts among other social media platforms have on their perception of their population. Erin Gallagher asked me what was my opinion about the role of the government in social media. I have decided that I would answer her question as a blog entry that expands my current view on the topic.

Mexico, Everytime More Connected… To Television.

In the case of Mexico, as in many other countries, this is still an area that requires further study to identify how these platforms alter people’s perceptions of political leaders. Nevertheless, it is more and more evident that these governments are investing more and more in how they want to be perceived in under this media spectrum. But Mexico’s case is quite unique. Mexico has a very low level of Internet subscribers with a 10% of the population, compared to the UK (37.8%) or the USA (31.42%). [i] Nevertheless, that 10% of the Mexican internet subscribers represent 12’838,093 Mexican households. Enough people to make substantial changes to a political outcome. Therefore, politicians and political parties have acknowledged that the Web plays an important role when reaching the millions of Mexican homes but at the same time these are homes under the Web 2.0 umbrella. These homes can also broadcast their messages and backlash against the original message originally sent by the politician. Arguably, the Web can be used as another mass media channel or at least to extend the original media pathway of a marketing campaign. Lately, political campaigns have become marketing wars with their particular advertising outputs. This is the reason why we are witnessing huge coverage of characters such as Donald Trump that have a high top of mind awareness as referred in marketing terms. Nevertheless, these effects do not really convince the vast majority of people to vote, particularly the ones who are looking to exercise an educated vote, but it will still affect and influence voting in the general population. Mexico knows this and has invested heavily in marketing campaigns and embedding themselves in the media. [ii] For instance, Enrique Peña Nieto’s campaigns have cost over $413 million dollars.

Web Access
These images by Animal Politico show the Web penetration market in mexico.

This advertising investment took place in states that do not rank on the top states with Internet access [i]. This suggests that this push strategy ( yet another marketing term ) is made through traditional means such as television, print and radio. Moreover, this is supported by the investment distribution made to each one of their providers where the vast majority has been spent on Televisa, one of the main television networks in Mexico. [ii]

Investment In Advertising
Investment in mass media by the government. By Animal Politico

What we are witnessing now is a new investment on media manipulation through social media. The astroturfing of politicians is more and more evident. Memes, trending topics and internet shaming are some ways of society to backlash against political inconformity, and politicians have noticed this thus spreading a huge shift in the way they deal with their personas on social media networks. Astroturfing is now a central part of politicians on the Web. Due to the fact that other countries have may government and private agencies such as the NSA, CIA, Ofcom or GCHQ regulating their content and Mexico only has one private organisation regulating it (Carlos Slim / Telmex), Mexico had to invest in hiring what are now known as #PeñaBots. PeñaBots are individuals paid to push or promote Peña Nieto’s twits thus lowering the reach of a particular trending topic. What we are witnessing now is astroturfing as a marketing campaign for a political gain. For example, Merca2.0 published a list of the 20 most followed Mexican politicians in Facebook and Twitter. [i] Where on top place Enrique Peña Nieto place first place. Nevertheless, this does not mean that he is actually that relevant or popular. Once an analysis is performed on the amount of real followers, then it is evident the investment that has been made in producing fake followers. In order for an astroturfing strategy to take place it is necessary to portray popularity thus depicting popularity or a mass movement. Ironically Peña only has 45% of real followers. From the three main political parties of the last national election, he is the one with less credibility in this sense, followed by Josefina Vazquez Mota and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, both 48%.

Evidence of fake followers.
Evidence of fake followers.

This evidences the way in which Mexican politics work. The general mexican population lacks political education thus ignoring their local government. Arguably, Mexicans commonly complain about the main government without actually getting involved within their local community governmental bodies. This argument can illustrated with the lack of investment of fake followers in social media networks. All the main political parties scored positive in their percentage of real followers. This could suggest that it is not that important to invest on main organisations whilst investing on the individual main representative remains a priority.

Political parties and their twitter status.
Political parties and their twitter status.

Other countries such as the UK, or the USA, do not have the same result. Barack Obama, David Cameron and even Arnold Schwarzenegger score positive as well. As expected, on a lower level, local and less central Mexican representatives present higher scores similar to the ones from their parties. In here PRI lead the list, followed by PAN and PRD. Many of these representatives such as Manuel Velasco and Luis Vinegary have very low acceptance in the polls in areas with high levels of Internet access. Nevertheless, the investment is not there, arguably due to the same issue of the importance that the central leader has above local authorities.

The three main parties
The three main parties

A more clear example can be shown as well with the main political parties. Most of these accounts do not show a significant investment of fake followers. In this case MORENA is the account with the highest score. Similarly, the population focuses on what the main leaders are saying instead of the political house parties. This is also reflected in advertising, the investment is commonly reflected in individuals and not on the working groups. It is certainly cheaper invest US$9 for 3000 followers thus risking showing the lack of integrity and lowering reputation than engaging with the communities behind those twitter accounts.

The lack of engagement between social media users and politicians differ from different parts of the world. As said, the case in Mexico there is only a few areas that have fully engaged with Information Technologies. These states are in majority the ones that make Mexico the 4th fastest growing country in social media communities 5. Therefore, there is a large community ready to engage with information and criticise the current government. But what we have witnessed is a government not yet ready to engage with the social media communities. Instead PeñaBots have left traces of evidence of the difficult situation that social media communities create for the current government or politicians. For example the case of #YaMeCanse became a trending topic when Jesus Murillo Karam, the PRI principal attorney who handled the case of the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico mentioned that he was too tired (“ya me canse”) to continue with the journalist’s questions. This became the trending topic where Mexicans were showing their inconformity with the government. A quick response was shown by the government where according to Alberto Escorcia, a social media specialist, PeñaBots were used to push other trending topics to displace the current #YaMeCanse 6.  He used Gephi to visualise how #PeñaBots attacked the trending topic, here is the video of how it happened.

There is not much evidence of other countries performing similar actions from their main accounts, but many of them are investing heavily in the way they are portrayed online and the way their communities engage with them. In this case the main Mexican government has only a 57% of real users, meanwhile Russia only has 22%. This is an area that requires further research since there is many evidence that shows that digital communities are deeply connected to the real world. Finally, even though a hashtag can not fix the issues in their countries, it shows that there is people interested to do it and that puts a lot of pressure in a government that are not doing their job properly.

Status of governments in Twitter.
Status of governments in Twitter.

If you would like to know more about the topic, I recommend you that you take a look at Erin Gallagher’s presentation and follow @LoQueSigue_ and Alberto Escorcia.


[i] OECD, Broadband Portal, http://www.oecd.org/sti/broadband/oecdbroadbandportal.htm, July 2015.

[ii] http://www.animalpolitico.com/2015/08/pena-nieto-se-excede-en-publicidad-oficial-y-gasta-mas-de-lo-presupuestado/

[iii] http://elladobueno.com/los-10-estados-con-mayor-acceso-a-internet/

5 http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Social-Networks-Capture-Users-Engagement-Mexico/1008960

6 http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2015/03/150317_mexico_internet_poder_penabot_an

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Natural User Interfaces

by Pranav PramodWe are at the beginning of the 21st century. Most of our everyday actions are related somehow to computer interaction.  Many of them we perform them without even thinking about it. If we stop for a minute and think what sort of activities include a computational task we may be surprised by this. The interfaces that we utilize have been blended with our everyday life based on experimentation and experience. But many people especially the elderly and disabled have been segregated from these tasks as a result of bad interface design. The digitally native new generations have learnt how to operate these computational artefacts by empirical learning. It is now the time for a new era in the digital world in which Natural User Interfaces (NUI) increases integration of our genetic knowledge and experiences with the interfaces in order to perform computational tasks faster and with more ease.

What is an interface?

From the moment we begin to interact with any system and perhaps try to communicate with it, we have to define the method or context in which we will be interacting with it.  This method/context will create some boundaries between user-system/system-user.  The interface will be the channel through which the user will interact with this system.

In computer technologies, there are several types of interfaces:

  • User interface
  • Software interface
  • Hardware interface

The main goal is to produce a user interface that will make the experience for the user mainly efficient, easy and enjoyable.  This is based on the main concept of providing a design specially focused on Usability.  Merging interface design and usability design, we start introducing concepts from ergonomics, psychology and of course all the standard design theory used for static and dynamic design.

by Microsoft
Example of an interface

What is interaction?

We can define interaction as any demand for action from another user, program or artefact. This interaction can take place in many ways from the most traditional button pressing to the most modern motion sensed gesture tracking.  It is in these interfaces that the power of control is transferred through interaction. The level of interaction or the complexity of the controllers has to be properly managed in order to fulfil the objectives of what the interface was created for.

Interacting Empirically

Most of the problems with interactivity happen as a result of a bad interface design. It is essential that the interfaces in which we engage are the most ‘invisible’ as possible. By ‘invisible’ I mean that the user needs to learn empirically how to use the interface in the shortest time possible and with the least possible effort. So, most of the interfaces will require some knowledge or experience from the user in order to be able to interact with them. This means that most of the knowledge that we gather comes naturally from experimentation and investigation (a posteriori), but Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher had a theory that some knowledge does not happen only by experimenting or by experience. He argues that some knowledge can also be obtained by mundane or everyday acts (a priori) like queueing in line, or letting somebody in before you into a shop. These everyday actions create a ‘library’ of concepts in everybody’s minds. Therefore it is important to utilize these types of libraries of experiences as parameters for our next interface.

That is what Natural User Interfaces are trying to create. NUIs will use all the empirical knowledge that we have in order to generate tools for interaction. So, what is the most empirical knowledge that we have? Our senses. They have been facilitating our learning since the first seconds of our lives.  The use of our senses combined with experiences will provide one of the most powerful and fastest learning curves for our users if we manage to apply them correctly. There are several ways to achieve this so consequently there are several types of NUIs.

Multisensory Interface

A variety of sensory inputs can target the interface that in the same manner can respond in the same way. This includes voice, touch and gestures.

from Rekkerd.org
JazzMutant Lemur and the reactable

Human Like Interaction

Within this category, the interfaces can engage the user through a tactile element from everyday life or via a physical tool that is related to that task. The senses will be attached to the prior experience connected with the emulated object.

Biometric Interaction

Most of these interaction modes take place in real time. The use of physical characteristics can be used as interaction commands. This includes face recognition, eye tracking and pitch of voice among others to be able to command an interface either willingly or unwillingly.

Invisible Computing

This is also known as the effect of the Disappearing Computer. These interfaces happen when the computational element disappears from the user’s mind. This can happen physically or mentally. Physically in the way that the computer is physically hidden from us or is so small that we cannot perceive it. On the other hand mentally will happen when psychologically our eyes can not relate it to a computational object, for example a piece of intelligent furniture.

by PicoCool
MIT’s SENSEable City Lab - EyeStop

These types of NUIs do not restrict themselves to a single category. It is imperative to always adapt the interface to facilitate your audience’s ease of use. This means that is important to understand your target market to foresee the possible elements that could challenge your interactivity. This includes age, sex, physical disabilities and even race or religious beliefs. It is not only about the technology that you are using or developing but also about how you are willing or going to implement it. Elderly people for example feel extremely challenged by smartphones. The adaptation of elements related to the original task that the interface is trying to perform can benefit the user’s interaction. For example if there is a need of a magnifying glass device for elderly people, a simple handle that activates motion sensing to the amount of zoom can enhance the use of this interface with this sector of the population.

 Image

A simple human like implementation.

One of the main companies that is recently known for making these kind of adaptations is Nintendo with their Nintendo Wii; relatively simple implementations like a plastic gun or a plastic fishing cane that attaches to a remote is one of the best ways to introduce Human Like Interaction to the Multisensory Interaction of emulative gestures sent from the WiiMote to the game console. This facilitates the learning curve of playing a specific game.

What happens when there is no remote or controller? The case of Microsoft’s Kinect in which there is no longer a physical object controlling the game but instead the movements and gestures that the player performs will be utilised as interaction commands. This combines Biometric Interaction along with Multisensory Interaction in which specific characteristics of the user can be taken into account to play the game. The user needs to emulate real life event life gestures in order to play the game correctly; this requires a priori and a posteriori learning.

What does the future hold?

The power of modern computing objects allows developers and designers to implement interfaces, which they no longer have to be concerned if it can be developed. The psychological response from all users and the way we interact with the new technology is as important as the development of new technologies. The technology is already there ready for us to start using it. It is the challenge for developers and designers to implement them in the most productive way possible. The user experience is probably the most important element in the material world. If you drive a car, you need to know how it drives and about its safety features; if you use a notebook, can it save my writing into a computer, is it difficult to use, is it heavy? Even the way the objects look can put some people off. So NUIs can be able to include everybody in the use of digital technologies. This is really important since there can be massive implementations in Health sectors with elderly people or disabled people who have been previously segregated. So NUIs are a very positive and powerful way of increasing performance on any kind of product or service. We have over 50,000 years of experience as Homo-Sapiens which can be utilized to perform computational tasks and improve interface interaction. We have always adapted to the computer world and now the computer world is adapting to us. The use of smart furniture and smart buildings that connect us with them as well as the communication of our feelings to other people around us are one of many examples of how adaptive and ‘invisible’ they can become. NUIs have the ability to create a new paradigm in the digital world in which we no longer have to spend two hours reading a more confusing manual in order to use a simple interface that may be capable of making popcorn or transferring the notes of your notebook into a computer.

COMP6046 – Journalistic Article // Computational Thinking
jp6g11@ecs.soton.ac.uk

The New Mexican Digital Populism

The Web has been transformed to a new forum to express our feelings, ideas and beliefs. In the case of the political world, it has evidenced itself as a new channel to reach for votes, or communicate with the ‘people’. In the same way The Web has become a new channel for writing about what is passionate for us and perhaps demonstrate our political beliefs.

Mexico is a country where its own political history has been overwhelmed by corruption and uneven distribution of wealth. Over 75% of the population are in between middle and lower class. With a 7% of people living in opulence, there are plenty of cases in which these socioeconomic areas of society are deeply involved with the political events of the country. Mexican politics is the history of wealth overpowering democratic processes and transnational companies buy politicians. Being such a case, the political situation in Mexico has promoted classism and ignorance. From a popular perspective, politicians no longer stand for correctness or examples for society, they are current examples of ignorance and power in a struggling country trying to survive.

The PRI’s case of Peña Nieto

Since politicians are now using Social Media in the attemptto ‘communicate’ with us, the population, we are now trying to understand what do they stand for, based on the information provided on those channels. It is now a very important medium for politicians, that if used incorrectly can severely damage their reputation.

Enrique Peña Nieto is the presidential candidate from the Revolutionary Institution Party (PRI). PRI has been responsible for several crises in Mexican history such as the killing of Tlatelolco (1968), the national debt (1982) and the devaluation of the national currency in (1994) and stayed in power for over 70 years. This has produced an sense of disbelief in the population of any posing candidate coming from that party (or any other for that matter).

On December of 2011, Enrique Peña was presenting his book “México, la gran esperanza” in the Book Fair of Guadalajara. In the presentation conference, a journalist asked him for three books that marked his personal and political life. The candidate was unable to produce an answer thus started mumbling. He did not managed to quote a single title of a single book and its author. Well… apart from the Bible, which he mentioned, he partially read it. He carried on by naming some books which he then confused the authors. A few hours later, he wrote in his Twitter account: “La Presidencia Imperial is by E Krauze and La Silla del Aguila by C Fuentes, two books that I really enjoyed reading and I confused today. I really recommend them.”

 

Images emulating the Bookstore’s advertising campaign

This of course started a wave of critiques and replicas on the social media networks. In which the hash-tag  #LibreriaPeñaNieto (Peña Nieto’s Library) became a trending topic in which people started posting replies cleverly criticising and making fun of such event. One of the most popular ones was the emulation from a very popular bookstore from Mexico in which the population evidenced their anger and discontent against such politician. Many other online videos started popping out like the famous Mexican cartoon Huevo Cartoons and their release ‘Que Pena Nieto’ which translates cleverly to “what a shame grandson”. This video holds a trending bronze medal by Youtube with over two million views in less than three days.

 

Huevocartoon’s ‘Que Pena Nieto’ Trend

This massive response indicates an engagement of the population with social networking sites and evidences the their use as a very strong communication channel. Politicians (and public figures) are usually unaware of this until is too late. The media power of this social media has a huge power that is necessary to be taken into account in a PR campaign, or in public image communicates. It has promoted audience engagement in an unprecedented way.

Since Mexico is the king of soap operas, the controversy continued. The unawareness of how much damage a single Tweet can do became the perfect scenario for the next Mexican Trending Topic. On the 5th of December, a few days after the massive bombardment of mockery, the daughter of Peña Nieto, Paulina Peña Pretelini, re-tweeted a post from her boyfriend that stated “Hello to all the idiots who are part of the proletarian who only criticize who they envy.” It was an attempt to use the working class term as an insult. This of course created huge discontent within the Mexican population who responded with several tweets and messages using social networking sites and new clever combinations from the previous mockery campaign. The #LibreriaPeñaNieto started blending with the new trending topic #soyprole #ForeverProle and #Prole. It was under these hash tags that the Mexican community started showing their discontent towards the candidate and his family, along with some of the qualities of the bureaucratic families.

 

From Trendsmap. Taken on the 6th of December 2011 at 16:00

The negative impact that this tweet had, made more damage than all the previous mistakes that the candidate did before. Due to the lack of preparation from the candidate’s team there were some amendments to be done. Peña Nieto had to apologize through his own Twitter account and his daughter’s account was taken out from Twitter. Two days after, she came back apologising for the tweet she had made before.

Something as a Trending Topic in Twitter can be used as a platform to showcase people’s thoughts and the general feeling of a specific social or economical group. Politicians are realising this and started to use this new channel of communication as another medium to present themselves to the public. One of the big differences is that now we have a chance to reply and to express to a wider audience our true feelings without anybody moderating it. This can be a double edged sword, due to the fact that we can not know the whole background story of somebody’s comment or ‘evidence’ for it. Most of what we see is self and auto-regulated since it is happening in real time. This also provides another challenge for public figures. They will have to be on guard all day in order to keep up their public image when presented to the audience. We are all interacting in a Web 2.0 reality show. Anything that you say or do is now shared with other people and in different channels at different levels of communication. Information is becoming more and more available to the general public, from Government Open Data to the Tweets of the sixteen-year-old daughter of a presidential candidate. The important thing is to engage with this information correctly. Television channels and the mass media communication industry are now feeding with the everyday outputs from such sites. It is the new paparazzi way to gather information. Therefore, it is necessary for those mass media channels to educate themselves in to how to interpret topic trends, or how to analyse a group’s emotion that is being re-tweeted in order to cover a story ethically and accurately. The very same way newspapers, magazines and television shows are regulated and we need to be aware that social networking sites provide a self-regulated environment in which the power of the user has the final say since they are the ones putting themselves out on the Web.

Chapter 4 – Enchantment

There is a very funny subtile that says “Don’t we have people for these jobs?

The already accepted machines for our everyday life allows these robots to start replacing us in several situations.  There are cases in which the AIBO is taken into elderly homes in order to provide ‘company’ or entertainment to people.  The same way that kids provided care for the Furby, now these new ‘Furbys’ will start taking care of us.  There are several cases of elder people left alone, I believe an AIBO or an AI machine can be capable of providing this caring feeling.
If you or somebody you know has allergies to fur, perhaps getting a cat or a dog won’t be a very good option.  In this case the AIBO becomes a good option.

As presented on the previous posts, we are always going to compare the machines to the ‘real thing’.

Some experiments presented that some kids would rather be with a robot than with a real babysitter.  Some babysitter will neglect the job and go to their friend’s house. Some other ones will not be able to come up with good cooking ideas for dinner time. Some other ones don’t even know how to play.  A robot that can be able to provide all this can be able to be more reliable than the ‘real thing’.  That is why some kids would actually prefer the companionship of a robot.

Staying in the enchanting subject and the comparison between the real and the artificial, lets see something like Hatsune Miku.  A Vocaloid based singer that performs as a hologram with a computer based voice and the fans love it.  The songs are written by real musicians and performed by real musicians, it just happens that the singer is a holographic robot.  Some people will argue that the real thing is better, but when we compare it to the real thing in which voices have been autotuned or have been completely modified by computers and don’t sound anything like the track when you see them live; what is better.  Or in this case is the ‘artificial’ better? Or how many un talented singers and band we will encounter?  Just because they are ‘alive’ does it make them better?

I will leave you with two videos:

  • Hatsune Miku live in Tokio
  • The worst live event ever!

I would actually stick with the ‘artificial’ one.

Chapter 3 – True Companions

With the introduction of robots like the Sony’s AIBO, a robotic dog, many ideas of what is alive and what is not start to change. The AIBO takes the relationship of user and robot a little bit further.  With the Tamagotchi you had to clean, heal, feed and take general care of the little bugger. The Furby presented a more realistic body with fur and also what seemed to be a true learning curve that made kids adopt the real role of parent or teacher.  This AIBO takes all these elements to the next stage.

Depending of how he is treated, he will evolve or adapt to those type of treatments.  This means it will create some sort of ‘personality’.  That’s what we needed, robots with issues and demands.  This rephrases the previous topics of “alive enough” and “sort of alive”.  Now with these robots, we have to consider their feelings.  Kids no longer have to explain how their favorite toy is feeling, the little robot will provide feedback to that in which the children or user will have to adapt to it.

Sherry Turkle brings up a very interesting concept: alterity.

“The ability to see the world through the eyes of another”.  “Without alterity there can be no empathy”.

And empathy I will argue is one of the main elements that will make robots true companions.  They can be able to train people or kids before they get the real live ‘thing’. Some kids even prefer the robot than the real thing, the same as adults [as mentioned on previous posts]. When kids compare them to their previous toys, they refer to them as more real  because those robots can be able to adapt like a living animal.

People see in these robots a “window to express their feelings”.  They know the robot will provide a response and for that reason is not like talking to a Teddy Bear.  Our imagination and the social need of not being alone, I believe directs us to believe these things, o to believe on these robots.

I saw this video on Youtube in which a cat is just playing nearby the AIBO.  It is interesting the comments that people stated.

  • AIBO is my household’s favourite pet, a view not shared by our rather jealous cat Nike…
  • enjoy your AIBO, but please don’t neglect your cat.
  • Cool toy! How do u take care of it?
  • It is a sad day for the animal kingdom. Robots are officially more intelligent than them.
  • roflmao!!! he asked where’s the ball and the dog got scared and knocked itself over! hahahaha
  • your cat is like 1000x times better than this non functioning dog crap

Most of the comments give the AIBO live characteristics.  But most of them are still comparing them to the real thing.  This means the possibility of replacement is still there.

Chapter 2 – Alive Enough

As mentioned on the previous entries, the amount of interactivity that these characters with computer elements allows the user, in this case kids, to attribute them some level of mortal or live characteristics.

They love these objects and they truly believe that they are being loved back.  The children now start becoming responsible for this virtual pets. They are responsible for it’s ‘physical’ and ‘ emotional’ wellbeing. The toy evolves, grows and adapts, very similar to a child’s mind.

Designed to give users a sense of progress in teaching it, when the Furby evolves over time, it becomes the irreplaceable repository of it’s owner’s care.

These toys start to become pets. Some kids become more attached to the toy than the biological pet.

I saw a video in which a girl is in front of a dog puppet.  It is interesting how nobody pays attention to the puppeteer. Instead, the attention is focused on the puppet dog and the girl interacting with her. Not even the girl notices the puppeteer. Once the relationship with the object starts, the mind will block out any external elements and will just fill the blanks with what we want to see or believe.

There is a difference between a live object and a non live one.  If a machine breaks, we can just fix it and care for it.  But if we bring the live element to any machine, we will take care of it’s well being.  If it ‘breaks’ this means it is ‘sick’ and the user will become worried about the ‘pain’ it may feel.  This enhances the bond between the user (children) and the machine (Furby, Tamagotchi, etc.).

As these relationships become stronger, and real human interaction becomes more distant. These type of objects will start replacing that void created by the lack of human contact.  I have a very young cousin that I remember that one Christmas he got some toys as presents.  I was expecting him to run to his mother or father and show off his toys.  Instead, he ran to the service lady who seem to have replaced the position of the mother.  As humans, we need to fill that void, the same way the service lady takes place of the mother, an AI droid can be replacing the mother’s love the same way.

There are also several cases of children expressing their social needs or the lack of it by the insertion of these characters into their everyday life.  The reflect their struggles, fears and all kind of emotions on these machines.  They feel safer and more connected to them or at least less fearful to communicate their secrets.

Part 1 – The Robotic Moment

In the beginning…

In the 1980 several kids and adults started experiencing the interaction with computer based toys.  I am not referring to the Atari or console games.  These toys provided a direct interaction and response from the user.  The user believes there is a way of ‘liveness’ within that object.  If the toy is on and talking, it is ‘alive’ and you can ‘kill it’ by removing it’s batteries.

Through time…

As technology evolved, smarter toys started to appear.  The Furby and the Tamagotchi became part of many households and even part of the family.  I like the definition that Sherry Turkle mentions in her book when the kids try to define these new characters: “sort of alive” or “alive enough”.  Since these new computer toys presented a more realistic body, like the Furby, it became easier for kids to embed him with biological characteristics like love, fear, loneliness or pain.

I will argue that in the traditional role play created by imagination when kids add these type of characteristics to non responsive toys like a Teddy Bear or any cuddling toy, the element of interactive response to the user will enhance exponentially this characteristics.

Kids mentioned in the study encountered a situation in which they ‘operated’ a Furby.  Some mentioned that he was going to ‘die’. This openness and receptiveness to the live shows a level of acceptance from the kids towards the object.  They accepted the toy into their life and became attached to it.  Not to the toy Furby.  But to the ‘entity’ with a specific name which happens to be from a Furby ‘race’.

The Tamagotchi presented a similar case.  The object presented a body contained within an egg.  When kids play with non computer toys, they have to provide the thoughts to those characters.  The Tamagochi will have its own ‘thoughts’ and ‘demands’.  This presents also another type of ‘aliveness’.  Kids become attached to the specific Tamagotchi raised within that egg.  They also will have a massive guilt if the Tamagotchi dies. They will miss the ‘entity’ and even some kids won’t ‘reset’ the Tamagotchi to bring a new one back up, they will bury the Tamagotchi and buy a complete new one and start from scratch. (pp 33)

Now…

Technology keeps evolving and we keep adapting to it.  New toys or companions start to emerge. Not only for kids, but also for older people.  Robots that will be able to provide company to elder people or perhaps act as a loving partner for people who have social problems.

What are the ethical or natural issues with this?  How is this affecting the world? Will people just stop dating and just go straight away for the ‘safer’ partner?  I believe this type of technological changes have to be monitored in order for us to be prepared and be capable of understanding these new relationships.