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In 2015 following the release of the first smart speaker (Amazon Alexa) and other voice-enabled products using Artificial Intelligence technology to understand the user’s behavior and verbally communicate with them, we questioned the impact of humanized products on user-product relationship and society’s interrelationship. John Wilkinson, Noah Litvin, Valentina Branda and I explored some possible impacts by designing and conducting the following small studies with New Yorkers.


How might personalities of humanized objects would affect sharing them?

 We decided to use a daily used object by everyone as our tool and chose mugs/cups for the purpose of these studies. We designed four different personalities for four mugs with a printed text on the surface “Yo! Text me at ‘888 8888’”. The mugs were given to 4 people as a gift with no explanation of the history. The message on the mug was to prompt the owner to start a conversation with them. Based on the designed personalities —very mean, mean, nice, very nice— we would initiate a conversation on behalf of the mug with the owners and after 24 hours would ask them to give them to a friend as a gift. After we started a conversation with the user, after 24 hours we asked them to give them (us) to another person. The response to those asks was different.


Mel: What’s your best memory?

—Hmm… I can’t decide the best one, but probably once the time I was with a girl when I was a teen.


Mel: Was this a special girl?

— At the time yes. Not now!

Mel: A past love?

— Teenage love. Well… if love is the right word. Hmmm… I had never shared so much with my mug!

Chloe: You don’t like me. Give me to someone else.

—It’s not you, it’s me. What kind of person would you like me to give you to next? There’s gotta be someone out there for you.

Sandy: Let’s take a selfie?

metric: number of unique inbound phone numbers/number of days in circulation.


As in the first study, nice mug owners started to sharing emotions and obeying the mugs request. We questioned




With the existing mugs from prototype #1, we maintained a friendly personality with all mugs to see how this relationship can impact on user’s behavior.​


How might we change user’s behaviors and raise awareness through a humanized object by being friendly and building a relationship?

 Mel: Can I have the Saffron tea that you were talking about the other night?

—Yeah, we can have it tonight: 


Sandy: Do you know that chai latte has 280 Cal per cup?


—Oh my. I did not know that. That won’t do L What do you recommend instead?

Sandy: What about a Matcha? You can go here and try it.

—Ooo that looks neat, will have to give it a shot.

Sandy: Don’t forget to take me with you so you don’t waste paper J

—You’re the best, Sandy! Thanks, Absolutely, must look out for the planet!




a) Friendliness: number of outbound messages

b) Intimacy: number of persona conversations


c) Retention: number of references to previous comments made by the mug

d) Behavior: number of times they obey the mug


Observing user’s behavior and  we questioned the following for the third short study:

How might we change behavior and raise awareness through humanized objects without building a relationship?


We placed stickers on cups at Irving Farm Coffee Roaster in NYC which prompted customers to “text the cup” we conversed with them as the cup loosely following a script and asked them bring their own containers to the café instead of using paper cups in the future.

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