stories from the wilder side of science


What is the most common sexual fantasy of a computer?

Posted on November 22, 2010 at 4:22 PM

Although this doesn't seem to be a scientific question the answer can be found in the highly original paper Intimate Exchanges: Using Computers to Elicit Self-Disclosure from Consumers  in the Journal of Consumer Research from March 2000. Its author Youngme Moon (now the Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School) had to come up with an answer in order to do her study on the principle of reciprocity between computers and humans.

Moon at the time was the Ph. D. student of Clifford Nass at Stanford University one of the leading experts on how people interact with technology. In various experiments. Nass discovered that people were interacting with computers using the same social rules that they use when they interact with other people.

For  example, if a computer helped them with a task they later helped the same computer much longer than an identical computer across the room. This in itself is surprising but wait until you've read how Youngme Moon pushed that study even further.

Moon wanted to test one of the most basic social rules: disclosure begets disclosure. People who receive intimate disclosures feel obligated to respond with personal disclosure of equal intimacy. The question was: does this rule not only hold between two persons but also between a person and a computer.

And here is Moons experiment: a computer asked intimate questions about disappointments, death, sex and so on. The participants typed in the answer. For half of them the computer preceded each question by giving some information about itself (fitting the question). That is why Moon had to invent personal disclosures about disappointments, death and sex from the angle of a computer. If Woody Allen is ever to do a movie about neurotic computers that are probably the statements he would come up with.

Here is the "confession" by the computer preceding the question, what is your most common sexual fantasy?

Since this computer is in a university setting, it gets used by all sorts of users. It is thus a distinct possibility that this computer will someday be used by someone who needs to do complex multimedia presentations, which would make the most of this computer’s processing and display capabilities.


Uhhh. And here  computers are talking about death and disappointment:


(preceding question: What are your feelings and attitudes about death?)

Computers are built so that they can theoretically last for years and years. However, because newer and faster computers are always coming along, most computers last just a few years before they are dumped by their owners. This computer has been around for about 6 months so it probably has about 4 or 5 years left before it ends up being replaced by a newer model.

(preceding question: What has been the biggest disappointment in your life?)

This computer has been configured to run at speeds of up to 266 MHz. But 90% of computer users don’t use applications that require these speeds. So this computer rarely gets to used to its full potential.


There was even a horny computer talking about his last adventure.


(preceding question: Can you describe the last time you were sexually aroused?)

A few weeks ago, some user came in here and began using this computer to edit some digitized video. No one had ever done this on this computer before.


But what is most surprising: it worked. The participants whose computers made those trivial admissions divulged much more personal information than the control group. Believe it or not, even you would be much more open about what you dislike about your physical appearance after the computer entrusted to you that "90% of all computers are beige, so this computer is not very distinctive in its appearance."

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