Last week, I wrote about the changes in our modes of interaction with computers: voice and touch are the technologies promoting these behavioral changes. In this week’s Wall Street Journal, Clifford Nass, a professor at Stanford describes fascinating stories of human computer interaction with some hilarious results.

Setting out a converse argument to mine, Professor Nass points out we are also changing the way computers interact with us by teaching our programs and devices the manners that we have developed as our societal norms.

One of the most reviled software designs of all time was Clippy, the animated paper clip in Microsoft Office…

In an experiment, we revised Clippy so that when he made a suggestion or answered a question, he would ask, “Was that helpful?” and then present buttons for “yes” and “no.” If the user clicked “no,” Clippy would say, “That gets me really angry! Let’s tell Microsoft how bad their help system is.” He would then pop up an email to be sent to “Manager, Microsoft Support,” with the subject, “Your help system needs work!” After giving the user a couple of minutes to type a complaint, Clippy would say, “C’mon! You can be tougher than that. Let ’em have it!

The system was showed to 25 computer users, and the results were unanimous: People fell in love with the new Clippy. A long-term business user of Microsoft Office exclaimed, “Clippy is awesome!” An avowed “Clippy hater” said, “He’s so supportive!”

Without any fundamental change in the software, the right social strategy rescued Clippy from the list of Most Hated Software of all time…

from Clifford Nass’ article “Sweet Talking to Your Computer

We’re making our hardware and software increasingly human and learning all the while that these changes can dramatically change the way users react.