Human-Machine Interaction



Our company is called The Machine Zone after the same phrase used in the casinos of Las Vegas. The idea is discussed in the brilliant book Addiction by Design by Natasha Dow Schull, an anthropologist who spent 15 years in Las Vegas studying the interactions between slot machines and gamblers. (You can see a lecture by her here: this encapsulates her key findings).

The important point in the diagram above is that it is the interaction, the machine zone that is stressed. The relationship arises from properties of the machine and properties of the human user. The interaction is what is of interest in considering machine-human encounters.

Models are useful to make a point simply, but they miss out so much of what is a complex situation. We’ll be using models on this site but see our note on the limitations of models.

Although we have concentrated upon digital gambling, our essential concern is with the human-digital world as a whole. This is a huge field, and we do no more than skim the surfaces of just some aspects. (See Why We Keep It Simple). Although we’ll look at many things our essential concern is to consider the immediate, often hidden results of machine-human interaction, results which influence well-being. Well-being is such a worn-out phrase these days (and has also swanned a massive industry), we’d like to briefly point to what we mean by it. Well-being refers to the extent to which people can flourish, feel positive and full of energy; its consideration includes physical and mental health, social and environmental factors, injustice and exploitation, inequality, work, poverty, personal autonomy and related areas.

One could use the very simple model we have here to consider how life and well-being were so massively impacted by the industrial revolution, the rewriting of history, culture, politics and so much more. Today we live in another machine revolution, one that has grown at such a phenomenally swift rate that it has been difficult to chart, difficult for our individual lives, society as a whole to ‘see’ and adapt to.

We should appreciate what the model tells us – to focus on interaction but realise its gross limitations. For one, the interactions take place in contexts. They are influenced by historical factors, culture, economics and politics to name a few. The ‘human’ is not a simple empty space but a highly complex collection of learning, experience, beliefs, mental state, conditioning and so forth. The ‘machine’ cannot be separated from its design, its delivery (e.g. by internet), any marketing applied to it etc.

Our simple little model will be built upon. For now, the point of it is to stress the centrality of interaction between living human beings and digital machines. This dynamic interaction applies at the level of the individual player on a slot machine to the uncountable interactions involving society and culture as a whole, institutions, politics, culture – as history is shaped by human beings saturated in a digital environment. While we should consider carefully the states of both human and machine, it is their interaction which is of crucial concern.

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