Rational Robot Punishes You For Visiting Facebook
August 28, 2013

Rational Robot Punishes You For Visiting Facebook

It’s a rather simple idea, really. If you’ve been on a time-wasting website for too long, (ahem…Facebook) this rational robot will send an uncomfortable shock straight to your wrist, hopefully reinforcing that the social site is bad, just bad, for you. Think of it as a bark collar for dogs, except instead of barking you’re wasting time and instead of a collar it’s a pair of metal plates embedded in a keyboard rest.

Two Ph.D. candidates from MIT calculated the data as only two Ph.D. candidates from MIT can and discovered they were spending about 50 hours a week combined on Facebook. That’s more than an entire day each week dedicated to photos of cupcakes, vacations, drooling babies and nonsensical eCards. Likely deciding they’d never graduate from MIT if they couldn’t break the habit, Robert R. Morris and Dan McDuff, the students in question, began to look for ways to break them of this habit.

And that’s exactly how they see Facebook, by the way: a filthy, disgusting habit akin to smoking cigarettes.

They came up with two methods to help them stop spending so much time on the site, both of which were done mostly as a joke and will not be available for purchase.

Introducing Pavlov Poke, a system meant to issue slight punishment for wasting time on Facebook or anything else that isn’t of importance. According to their website, the shocking element of Pavlov Poke requires only four main components. The first is a UI inspector, or a tattle. This component watches what you do on your computer and if it notices that you’re spending an awful lot of time on Twitter, it will send this information on to the rest of the system. Some code sends a visual alert on the screen (in a video a red, thumbs down is seen on screen) and tells an arduino board to send some shocks by way of electrodes nestled in a keyboard rest.

In other words, type in “BuzzFeed.com” (for example) and receive a lovely jolt of electricity straight to your wrist. (Author’s Note: I just wasted about 10 minutes on BuzzFeed in the name of “research.”)

If being shocked on one of the more sensitive areas of your body is too intense, McDuff and Morris suggest handing your number and your online activity to a set of strangers.

Another aspect of Pavlov Poke trades the arduino board and shock plates for an hourly worker and a telephone.

When the UI inspector notices that you’ve spent too much time doing whatever it is that distracts you, it runs a script which automatically posts a job to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Essentially Mechanical Turk lets people earn some extra cash by doing some basic and possibly repetitive tasks that you’d rather not handle. They call them HITS, or Human Intelligence Tasks.

They could find a better name.

The script places a HIT on Mechanical Turk where a person picks up the job, picks up the phone, and calls to yell at you. Again, both solutions were only dreamt up as methods to help MIT students and won’t be available anywhere to anyone. This means only those who want to participate will.

These methods seem too easily circumvented, however. The keyboard rest could give you a good surprise if you absentmindedly navigate to Facebook out of habit, but eventually you’ll just learn to use it on your phone. As for the Mechanical Turk phone calls?

Just ignore the phone.

The entire point of these experiments, however, is to point out how addictive these kinds of sites are and just how bad they are for our brains.

“Technologies like Facebook are addictive by design,” reads an explanation by Morris.

“Would you still use Facebook if you knew it made you unhappy? Probably, if you’re addicted to it.”

Image Credit: Thinkstock.com

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