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They are also good at dealing with a natural environment such as the movement of objects and people in rooms, so if an interface can interact with the user to take advantage of these human talents, then you might not need a manual.” If you made the software social, people would find it easier to learn and use.Microsoft Bob visualized the operating system as rooms in a house, with various icons of familiar household items representing applications – the clock opened the calendar, the pen and paper opened the word processing program.And yet, despite our loathing and mockery of Clippy, pedagogical agents have been a mainstay in education technology for at least the past forty years – before the infamous Microsoft Office Assistant and since. The sudden and renewed interest in bots by tech investors and entrepreneurs, and the accompanying hype by industry storytelling, overlooks the fact that roughly half the traffic on the Internet is bots. The Georgia Tech program apparently was focused on answering student questions about due dates or assignments.
“Cliff and I gave a talk in December 1992 and said that they should make it social and natural.
We said that people are good at having social relations – talking with each other and interpreting cues such as facial expressions.
Swartz suggests that part of the problem with Clippy was that it was poorly designed and then (mis)applied to the wrong domain. To be fair, no one actually wants to talk to a human either in many of the scenarios in which bots are utilized – in customer service, for example, where whether conducted by human or machine, interactions are highly scripted. The field has reached a point where “personal assistant” technologies like Siri and Alexa are now viable – or so we’re told. The chatbot TA, “Jill Watson,” would post questions and deadline reminders on the class’s discussion forum and answer students’ routine questions.
If you follow Nass and Reeves’ theories about humans’ expectations for interactions with computers, it’s clear that Clippy violates all sorts of social norms. The first chatbot was developed at the MIT AI Lab by Joseph Weizenbaum in the mid–1960s. The surname is a nod to the technology that powered the chatbot – IBM’s Watson. Well, like Tay and ELIZA and Siri and Alexa, these bots are female, as Clifford Nass explained in an interview with The Toronto Star, because of the stereotypes we have about the work – and the gender – of personal assistants, and by extension, perhaps, of teaching assistants.
It remains, arguably, the best known and most hated user interface agent in computer history.
The program’s official name was Office Assistant, but the paperclip was the default avatar, and few people changed it.Nass and Reeves argued that people preferred to interact with computers as “agents” not as tools.That is, computers are viewed unconsciously as social actors, even if consciously people know they’re simply machines.Indeed, almost every early website offering instructions on how to use Microsoft’s software suite contained instructions on how to disable its functionality.(Microsoft turned off the feature by default in Office XP and removed Clippy altogether from Office 2007.) The Office Assistant can trace its lineage back to Microsoft Bob, which was released in 1995, itself becoming one of the software company’s most storied failures.This new “social interface” was hailed by Bill Gates at CES as “the next major evolutionary step in interface design.” But it was a flop, panned by tech journalists for its child-like visuals, its poor performance, and perhaps ironically considering Microsoft’s intentions for Bob, its confusing design.Nevertheless Microsoft continued to build Bob-like features into its software, most notably with Clippy, which offered help to users as they attempted to accomplish various tasks within Office.In theory at least, this made sense as the number of consumers being introduced to the personal computer was growing rapidly – according to US Census data, in 1993 22.8% of households had computers, a figure that had grown to 42.1% by 1998. And more significantly, can the personal computer do the teaching?Microsoft drew on the work of Stanford professors Clifford Nass and Byron Reeves (who later joined the Bob project as consultants) and their research into human-computer interactions.Tay soon began responding with increasingly incendiary commentary, denying the Holocaust and linking feminism to cancer, for starters.Despite the public relations disaster – Microsoft promptly deleted the Tay bot – just a few days later Bloomberg Businessweek pronounced that “The Future of Microsoft Is Chatbots.” “Clippy’s back,” the headline read.