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Book Review: The Man Who Lied To His Laptop

Most of our book reviews here on TDL are in someway tied to learning more about technology, science, and the people who make it possible. This week's book is a bit different. The Man Who Lied to His Laptop is actually much more about human relationships, than anything to do with technology. The book, written by Stanford professor Clifford Nass (with Corina Yen) chronicles his experiments based on the discovery that people interact with technology in the same way they do with humans, even to the point of assigning stereotypes and "helping" computers to complete tasks out of a sense of obligation.

Nass takes the reader through his experiments in a step by step, yet exciting style. The book begins by outlining the initial discovery of the ways humans treat computers as if they were humans. This process in itself could fill a book, but rather than dwell on that aspect of the research, Nass shows how he used that as a springboard to try a whole litany of experiments aimed at discovering truths about human interactions:

I had people work with a piece of software for thirty minutes and then asked them a series of questions concerning their feelings about the software, such as "How likely would you be to buy this software?" and "How much did you enjoy using this software?" One group of users answered the questions on the computer they worked with; another group answered the questions on a separate but identical computer across the room.

In a result that still surprises me fifteen years later, users entered more positive responses on the computer that asked about itself than they did on the separate "objective" computer.

The book is divided into five lengthy chapters, each tackling a different aspect of human communication, culminating in chapter five's fascinating look at persuasion. While each chapter has a bullet-point summary of key points, it feels more like a recounting of the evidence to support the presented theories, rather than a book of key points to implement in your own life.

Regardless, The Man Who Lied to His Laptop offers an intriguing look at human nature through a series of clever computer-based experiments. Your interaction with others, especially in group settings, can only benefit from this book. 

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