A post-rational take on people and computing


Date Thursday October 1st 2009
Time 4:00-5:00pm
Venue George E. Pake Auditorium, PARC

PARC Forum

Most people – engineers or not – think of computers as *useful* tools, and of people as purposeful actors who use them as a means to an end.  We critique this perspective and propose an alternative model where purposeful, rational behavior is not assumed. Our starting point is design for users in developing regions. Here, the factors that drive user choices, including their approach to computing systems, are far more complex, political and irrational than one would expect.  Design in this space is less about providing tools for tasks, and much more about persuading and motivating users to overcome the challenges they face. We discuss two recent projects on technology for developing regions, one on teaching english, and the other on maternal health care. The experience from these projects raises a natural question: Are users in developing regions really so different from users in the economic north? Or should we also rethink our models of computing and their role in the everyday lives of northerners as well? Attempting to answer this question has led us to piece together a framework called “postrationalism” which we will sketch at the end of the talk.


Related information: Theoretical Bases of the Post-Rationalist Approach


John Canny is a Professor in Computer Science at UC Berkeley. His earliest interests were in theory, mathematics, computer vision and robotics - on the interaction between computers and the physical world.  Since the 1990's he has focused on the democratization of computing, and what it means to design systems for the everyday.  In 2002, he founded the Berkeley Institute of Design, an interdisciplinary, human-centered design research lab. BID now houses 30 researchers from 8 departments. His research priorities are IT for health care, educational technology, sensing and actuation technologies, persuasive technology, mobile HCI and CSCW, and understanding people. He still lacks focus, but has best paper prizes from CHI 2007, Persuasive Technology 2008 and ACM KDD 2009, and was a winner in the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning competition in 2008.

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