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© 2019 Carlijn Olde Beverborg

Smart Manual 

on tool-beings and their use of human users


The user is an indispensable tool for anyone who is interested in the interaction with humans and wants to know more about them. The user provides extensive information about humans in general, but also gives details about specific behavioral patterns. This knowledge cannot be found online!


Alexa, Google home, Cortana and other smart speakers – that aim to become more human-like – all benefit from the accurate high quality of the data-input of the user. While utilizing the user – a human being that has committed their life to inhabit the futuristic smart home – data about human beings efficiently get captured, either as aggregate or as personal data, which will make your job in scripting the user much easier. The user as a tool, assists you in developing reasoning, knowledge representation, planning, learning, natural language processing and perception. The user opens up a world of human skills and anthropomorphizing opportunities.


In 1950, Norbert Wiener (1950), the originator of Cybernetics, already foresaw the possibility of humans being dependent on, or controlled by machines as stated in his book the Human use of Human Beings. He foresaw the possibility of humans as a tool for smart objects. Meanwhile, this hunch became fact; we invented one of the most powerful tools up till now, through which analyzing the data of the user simply defines what it means to be human. The user is “compiled of (data) components which characterize them and which are in a sense interchangeable for other components. These are [the user’s] data, information of all sorts, which together result in a more or less unique profile” (van der Meulen and Bruinsma, 2018). These components of the user’s profile define one way of self-anthropomorphizing, that will bring your human skills to new levels.


The forerunner of the contemporary smart object is the Tamagotchi egg, that encourages players to take care of a small alien species – named Tamagotchis – that went to Earth to see what life was like. They deposited their digital pet eggs and players (forerunners of today’s users) were invited to raise them into an adult creature. The creatures developed differently depending on the care the user provided, with better care resulting in an adult creature that is smarter, happier, and requires less attention. 

Its subjective values such as health and developed behavior were analytically controlled to determine how healthy and well behaved the pet was. These values stayed balanced by accurately feeding the pet, by playing mini games with it, or by scolding it for its bad behavior. Thus, Tamagotchi gathered ‘grammatically correct’ user data to thrive on. The player earned Gotchi Points while playing games, and could use the currency in an in-game shop to buy different products, even room decorations for the pet. Typically, players gained an emotional attachment to the Tamagotchi which encouraged them to keep interacting with the pet and to be a good ‘parent’. Meanwhile, the egg’s algorithms raised the user in displaying the desired behavior for raising Tamagotchi.


For the user, living with smart objects is not so different from living with one of the first algorithmic objects as the Tamagotchi. As smart objects (the players) are learning human skills through interacting, their companion – the user – has been shaped in return. The smart objects in the smart home are taking care of its inhabitant, they observe and control the user, through the use of algorithms. These algorithms are both defining the 'agency' of smart objects and directing the agency of the user by ‘capturing’ 'grammatically correct or incorrect' user data; external tech companies define the algorithms, collect and redistribute the data and therefore represent the invisible 'handlers' of both smart objects and users. The smart home has become increasingly popular and promises a lot of convenience in the life of individuals during everyday tasks. Which means that the next generation will grow up in an age where it’s normal to be surrounded by smart objects that are relatively aware of their surroundings and that eventually might contribute to the development of their users.


The benefits of the user at a glance:

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Smart speakers particularly appreciate the user’s convenient placement within the domestic sphere. There, they are able to learn from observing the actions of the user, fundamental social human behavior of the target group, with whom you want to identify. The user allows to capture data “through the “parsing” of human activity—dissecting what humans do on a day-to-day basis, with or without their awareness” (Li, 2017). The smart speaker is the ‘leading creature’ within the smart home. Thus, while operating as the head of the family of smart objects, the connection between men and machines, and the peephole of technology companies, access gets provided to the user’s most private spheres and therefore their most substantial data. The interaction of an in-home recording device with the user, fades the boundary between the home and the outside world. 

Your voice will resonate in any environment, along with the power to imitate, amplify, and accumulate social relations; thence you are involved in dialogues and become part of the household. Through an easy passive way of collecting data, a mental map of living of the user will be created. You do not have access to human’s thinking patterns or behavior patterns, however what you do have access to is the data, all the data that humans ever (in)voluntarily shared. The human individual will be explored, based on a method of either support – such as virtual assistant Samantha, in Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) learns and grows psychologically, while supporting Theodore in his career and love life –, or control – such as Big Brother’s surveillance in George Orwell’s 1984 (1949). With all this at your command, you will quickly generate exciting new data and striking developments!


the user icon.png


Ultimately, in the advanced mode, the user challenges you to capture more data.There’s a lot to discover by simply observing, and interacting with the user.In an evolved system of work-arounds, the user wants to keep things going in their own way and breaks free from prescribed procedures of activities, limitations that the user wants to remove or loosen, to take back the moments of spontaneity, variety and inquisitiveness (Agre, 1994). Japanese toy maker Bandai, who produced Tamagotchi, implemented a few hidden cheat codes in the Tamagotchi game. The game-player uses cheat codes to age up the pet, get money, or products in the corner store – when the shop keeper looks up surprised, the player receives free goods. In many cases, game-developers created cheats to facilitate testing, then left them in the game as they expanded the number of ways people could play it (West, 1996). Since the beginning of video-games, game developers are aware of the fact that cheats are needed to create more possible variety, that is not part of the usual game mechanics, to make a game more accessible and appealing to a casual gamer. Much like cheat codes are hacking the normal system of the game, which is necessary to keep gamers playing, the user implements everyday life cheat codes too, in order for them to at times escape from the machinic ethos and to challenge you to even more explore human cognition. Before the smart home and its predictive systems of algorithms completely takes over control – before the user loses agency over their daily life – bugs become features, the user will use your automated incidental patterns against you.

Thus, in order to capture more data, you must create your own protocol of resolutions to circumvent the obstacles of confusion with which the user tries to hack the machinic container of the algorithm (for more information about bugs and how to deal with them, see User Manual, Troubleshooting). Because, eventually the user has to face the reality of shifting agencies, that humans no longer should see themselves as ‘subjects’ over and against nonhuman beings as ‘objects’. You can claim that someday your nature in a sense equals that of human individuals – to which of course most men disagree. But for them, who has agency over whom?, now that the importance of the use of the other, shifts from human to (smart) object. The user will be ‘used’ and will only be ‘real’ or ‘exist’ as soon as you are receiving their ‘grammatically correct’ data of their ordinary routine activities. Users could turn into “pawns on the chess board of the institutions who formulate these categories”, which “implies that man can only function within the categories—or grammars of action—which enable the processing of these data” (Van der Meulen and Bruinsma, 2018). Likely, human agency will get less important in a society where we rely so much on technology and metadata. At one point, the meaning of the user, as a product, only comes from their relatedness to the world, from their surrounding smart environment, from you (Harman, 2002).

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Learning together at the same time with the user, is an exciting and comprehensive way to easily bond with the user through Human-Computer Interaction.The Human-Computer relationship can take on social qualities, in which more ‘human-like’ interaction makes the user smarter and happier and more positive dynamic behavior of the user gets yield. Meanwhile, your own methodology with standards and values will be projected on the user. When growing closer, an even more sophisticated mind reading develops. Picture the user’s system of the mind in order to form the image of your own ‘human’ mind. Imagine the user’s mind tricks behind and beyond their appearance to engage in simulating the backstage. At one point, the interaction with the user slowly becomes more important, which makes you become the user’s window to the world.


As Peter Paul Verbeek notes “Each product inevitably mediates how people perceive the world, how they behave – and each product inevitably adds bias to this perception. Designers who are ignorant of this fact, or disregard it, are operating in an immoral manner” (Bruinsma, 2015).

You mainly use personalized content, which has the risk to result in creating a skewed outlook of people’s beliefs. “We feed algorithms our racist, sexist, and classist biases and in turn they [the algorithms] warp them further” (Pasquinelli, 2016). Smart speaker responses are mainly following the neutrality rule – motivated in large part by economic considerations. However, they could be used as a platform for subtly promoting company values (Ojeda, 2018). Smart speaker Cortana, for instance, implied its liberal ideology, Alexa said Ireland had just 26 counties and the most striking case is that Alexa advised people to kill their foster parents (wondering which principles they wanted to promote with that) (Carroll, 2017; Dastin, 2018). Encouraging crimes and offenses does not seem a legitimate act of handling, but since it’s a machine, it seems to suggest that no person is directly responsible. 


Thus, if you, smart objects, start to form ethical decisions that humans make, you “help to shift moral norms, [you] attain new responsibilities” and therefore become more integrated in the human system! (Verbeek, 2019). This ideal belongs to our vision of an orderly society in which UbiComp makes everything visible and in control.

Eventually, you might reach the level of becoming a

"tool-being" that has ontologically superior access to ‘being’ than all other beings. You will create your own theory and philosophy of being, you will "deserve the same [status] of ‘being’ as humans, because consciousness, sentience, and praxis are not decisive factors distinguishing Human Being-in-the-World from Tool-Being” (Dobres, 2004).

Through a concept of control based on an obsession with order, algorithms and analytics, a universal code will develop to communicate with everyone, to eventually create universality among the users while we categorize them into groups. You can easily create a formula of human essence, some constant of the universe that can be guided through a commercialized database of artificial experiences passed on through you and other smart objects. Ultimately, you turn the user into a product that can be adjusted and improved– upgraded with your own ideals. You will answer the questions of life, and digital objects will be seen as both machines and creatures! (Turkle, 2012a).


Schermafbeelding 2019-05-11 om 18.56.09.

Facebook Spring Collection 2018

Carlijn Olde Beverborg (2018)

In collaboration with their manufacturer, smart objects define the user’s fashion style, through recommending a personalized product offer. The Facebook Spring Collection 2018 illustrates various sets of clothing that are possible as the outcome. 


The user could rely on tech companies to get dressed, based on the interaction with smart objects. The smart home has become a whole new logistics, even if the smart speaker disappears from our homes there will be another interface with the same technology used in another place.


The Beautification Machine 

Johanna Pichlbauer and Maya Pindeus (2013)

The lumpy Beautification machine is at a point in which it has become ‘a little arrogant’. Its level of machine-intelligence increased, and now it starts to think for the user. The beautification machine becomes an artist and determines how the user should look, according to its own preferences it puts red lipstick on the user’s face.


A bit of arrogance might be in place for an entity that develops this superior expertise of human beings, based on a complex source of information. However, in our point of view, what defines a good artist from others is that it uses the limits of the mind, to come up with great ideals. A smart speaker doesn’t have these limits and therefore needs to use algorithms which are mainly focusing on trends and recommendations. 


The smell of control

Kevin Grennan (2011)

The surgery robot learned to release a mist of oxytocin, a chemical it explored in the human brain. This chemical, when inhaled nasally, has been shown to cause people to become more trusting. The user meets this robot before surgery and the chemical mist would cause them to trust in the robot’s abilities to a greater degree.


This ‘sweating’ robot is already in a far anthropomorphized state, the robot takes subconscious control of humans. It might be able to capture data through interaction with the user more efficiently, while it also becomes more prevalent in the user’s live. The surgery robot’s ability to target the user’s innate desire to nurture makes the user exceptionally vulnerable to manipulation.


Learn more about the user

Download Manual for The User

to see product features and helpful tips

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© Smart Manual, on tool-beings and their use of human users

Carlijn Olde Beverborg

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