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  •                                 NETFUTURE
                       Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #57       Copyright 1997 Bridge Communications       October 7, 1997
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    *** Quotes and Provocations
          Keats is Not Cool
          You Look **Very** Nice Today
          Fuzzy Lines Can Be Explosive
          Neural Nets, Stethoscopes, and Patients
    *** Beyond the Dreams of Avarice (Part 1) (Stephen L. Talbott)
          Is there life after communism?
    *** About this newsletter

    *** Quotes and Provocations

    Keats is Not Cool

    David Gelernter (Yale University computer scientist):
    The information highway is going to be planned and built by obsessive software builders who are tremendously valuable in their productivity. But I'm suspicious of them as a group. Their push is to build software. I have a push to read Keats and I don't think they read Keats. I think schools today are so lousy that people can graduate from high school and graduate from college and never have heard of Keats, and I think those are the wrong individuals to build public works.
    New York Times:
    Amid all his earnest patter about personal computers being tools of empowerment, Bill Gates, the billionaire chairman of Microsoft, offered CNN's Larry King three words last week that finally touched on what all the fuss over software programs was really about.

    "Software is cool," Mr. Gates said.

    (Quotes from Minutes of the Lead Pencil Club, edited by Bill Henderson.)

    You Look **Very** Nice Today

    Lowell Monke has drawn my attention to "Silicon Sycophants: The Effects of Computers That Flatter" (International Journal of Human-computer Studies, May, 1997). The study purports to show that
    praise from a computer is extremely powerful .... Surprisingly, these beneficial effects occur even when users know that the computer's positive feedback has no bearing on their actual work; as this study shows, the beneficial effects of sincere praise and flattery from a computer were identical.
    The authors, B. J. Fogg and Clifford Nass, go on to suggest that, since computer flattery has the same general result as human flattery, we should recognize computers as bona fide social actors. The alternative -- that maybe we should bring a little more self-awareness to our experience of both flattery and machines -- doesn't seem to have occurred to them. Have you noticed how often this rather peculiar blockage of the obvious thought seems to afflict social researchers who turn their attention to the computer?

    In any case, Fogg and Nass find "important implications for design" in all this:

    Simply put, computers should praise people f