Animal Computer Interaction Conference: What it Means to be an Animal Participant

In December 2018, researchers in animal science and computer science met for the fifth annual Animal Computer Interaction (ACI) conference, held in Atlanta at Georgia Institute of Technology. Much like humans, animals have also been using computers for a long time. Historically animals have used computer technology in space, used lexigrams (symbol keyboards) to form language, and dolphins have used underwater keyboards.

Drawing parallels to human-computer interaction (HCI) research, which studies how humans use computers, ACI aims to investigate how animals interact with technology and the design of related devices. These technologies are developed to be used with animals in zoos and sanctuaries, working animals, domesticated animals in our homes, and wild animals. In HCI, user-centred design is an established methodology for designing with the user by including them as a participant within the design process itself. However, with animals, it is not so clear what it means to be a ‘participant’. For instance, humans can give feedback and consent to being in research – but how can this be achieved with animals? Being a participant, in some way, within the design processed is important in animal-computing to strive towards better and more informed designs.

Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, from Aalto University’s Computer Science department, along with Charlotte Robinson (Sussex University) and Patricia Pons (Polytechnic University of Valencia) brought this topical issue to attention in the form of a world café workshop titled ‘Designing for Animals: Defining “Participation” in Animal-Computer Interaction’ at the ACI 2018 conference. Ilyena recently attained her PhD in England in dog-computing systems where she looked at methods for allowing dogs to interact with screen devices. Bringing her expert knowledge now to Aalto, she has recently published the first literature review on ACI as well as the first dog-driven screen device.

The workshop was attended by more than twenty ACI researchers and students, animal behaviourists, and practitioners bringing a multidisciplinary group together. Here, questions were raised on participation: on how to support the animal involvement in technology, how to define participation, and the different roles animals could take in technology.

Besides group activities, keynote talks were given to stimulate the conversation by Melody Jackson, head of the ACI lab in Georgia Tech.; Clara Mancini, head of the ACI lab at the Open University, who also founded the field; and Yoram Chisik, from Rhein-Waal University of Applied Sciences, who related ACI to child-computer interaction.

For more information, please see