Digital Companions: An Interface between the Social and Computational Sciences

I am participating on the margins of a fascinating OII forum on digital companions — artifical, intelligent agents designed to support people in a variety of circumstances. Take for example, Apple Computer’s simulation of the Knowledge Navigator, conceived around 1987 The forum was organized by Professor Yorick Wilks, an OII Senior Fellow, who is the principal investigator of an EC project, Companions. The project Web site can provide a nice introduction to the concept.

The discussion has been quite multidisciplinary, but more successful than most discussions across disciplines. This is in part a reflection of the mix of participants, but also the degree to which the digital companion provides a very useful boundary spanning object. Discussion about the features necessary in an ‘extension of yourself’ or as an artificial companion, raises a huge range of social psychological, political, and other social scientific issues for computer scientists. Likewise, it forces social scientists to think of design issues for the computer sciences, such as what should a companion look like, what kinds of communication will be essential or sufficient, and more.

Sherry Turkle spoke at the first session of the forum, which was open to the public, up-dating us on decades of her research on how our relationships with computers are shaping how we think about ourselves. Professor Turkle’s work is a perfect example of how this topic can bridge disciplinary boundaries. It is difficult to imagine anyone not having a strong view on the topics she engages.

A summary of the forum will be posted on the forum’s Web page in due course. See:

One thought on “Digital Companions: An Interface between the Social and Computational Sciences

  1. A forum discussion paper written by Peltu, M. and Wilks, Y. (2008) “Engaging with Artificial Companions: Key Social, Psychological, Ethical and Design Issues” has been produced from the “Artificial Companions in Society: Perspectives on the Present and Future” event which took place at the Oxford Internet Institute on 26th October 2007. It can be viewed at:

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