Ina Fried

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Intel Sociologist Says the Love Affair Between Us and Our Gadgets Is Turning Into a Real Relationship

It may be a love-hate relationship with our gadgets, but Intel researcher Genevieve Bell says that our feelings for our technology are growing stronger.

Genevieve Bell Intel horizontal-feature

What was once at best a series of interactions is evolving into something that will one day closely resemble a real relationship.

Bell, who is set to speak Thursday at Intel’s developer forum in San Francisco, says the first step is the creation of devices like the Moto X that have always-on sensors listening for our commands.

“There’s an implicit promise in the listening,” Bell told AllThingsD in an interview on Wednesday.

Bell said she started thinking about this notion after watching a YouTube video of a Furby attempting to interact with Apple’s Siri.

Of course, many devices today still have trouble comprehending what we are saying, let alone caring about us. But the tie between us and our devices is clearly growing, Bell says, if we have reached a point that people sleep with their smartphones within arm’s reach. The shift from personal devices to devices with which we truly have a relationship will take time, she said, perhaps a decade or more.

In her travels around the world, Bell says, people often describe their smartphones in highly personalized ways. Bell recalls one person saying of her phone, “I fight with it sometimes, but we make up, and I know it will always have my back.”

That may be a bit extreme, but Bell says that today’s devices with their voice-activated assistants do more than just make sense of speech. Services like Google Now, and even the recommendation engines on Netflix and Amazon, are starting to anticipate our needs.

“They are pointing the way to something more interesting,” Bell says.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik