HCI, Information systems, Library systems, Proprietary information

HAL 9000 Goes to the Library


Am I the only one rather creeped out by some of the technology Rachit Gupta wrote about in his “Human-Computer Interaction: An Overview”? I’m not sure I want computers to be “ubiquitous” in my life, though I don’t know that there’s anything I can do about it at this point [Gupta, 1737.] I do know, emphatically, that I don’t want my computer to engage in facial expression analysis or auditory emotion analysis [Gupta, 1738]. What’s wrong with a computer doing what you tell it to do, and no more? (Well, okay, I know what’s wrong with that: we tell it do do the wrong thing, or don’t tell it what to do explicitly enough, so that it returns, in effect, gibberish.)

I’m trying to come up with a way for these technologies to be truly useful, as opposed to entertaining. (“Look what happens when I make this face!”) I did a story as a reporter in the early 1990s about how advances in computer technologies have greatly improved the lives of many disabled people by allowing them to do useful and fulfilling work, and the interviews I did really stuck with me. So I look at a lot of new technologies through that lens: maybe this will help people who struggle to communicate, or whose bodies won’t let them use more conventional technology. I consider a young relative of mine who has severe cerebral palsy and ask how facial expression analysis or auditory emotion analysis might make his life better, and…nope, not coming up with anything. I am coming up with incredible invasions of privacy the likes of which we may not have thought of because they don’t involve documents. Because somebody’s on the other end of the camera and/or microphone when these technologies are used; I doubt if the user data is just dumped into an unhackable hard drive in the user’s own home. Then what?

One “what” I can think of is that the data regarding a user’s (okay, let’s be blunt here about how we think about these things: not some theoretical user, but MY) expressions and emotions become proprietary information for some private company. Which is a not-so-good transition to my thoughts on discovery tools.

Discovery” is good, right? And tools that help one discover is good, too…right? As Asher, Duke, and Wilson put in in their paper, “Paths of discovery: Comparing the search effectiveness of EBSCO Discovery Service, Summon, Google Scholar, and Conventional Library Resources (Asher, Duke and Wilson, 2013),”

Discovery systems…address students needs by enabling cross-database access and access to sources they feel they can trust, especially when compared to Google (Asher et al., 2013).

But they go on to say:

[T]oo few students understood how these [discover] processes and algorithms work, a problem exacerbated by the proprietary designs and complex coverage agreements of the discovery tools themselves (Asher et al., 2013).

I added the emphasis there because it’s what gets to my point: Information is becoming increasingly proprietary. On the one hand, you can say discovery tools allow students to access information as never before. But on the other hand, you can say they’re only accessing the information the proprietors of the discovery tools want them to have. I don’t mean for this to sound like a conspiracy theory—I don’t think the Trilateral Council is controlling this or anything—but it is something to think about. Who gets to decide how information searches work, and what information people access? And who gets to use that information? Other articles in this week’s readings mentioned proprietary library systems, and how some of them work only with certain databases and not others, and only allow certain levels of customization and access because of their proprietary nature. I keep thinking of the old-fashioned image of the librarian with her cards and card catalog and pencil in her bun, who knew everything there was to know about her system and could take her skills anywhere. Is this really so much better?

All that said, after performing a literature search on another topic and being flooded with articles, I have to wonder if the problem actually is that we have too much information, point blank. But that’s for another post….



Gupta, R. (2012). Human computer interaction: A modern overview. International Journal of Computer Technology and Applications, 3(5), 1736-1740.

Asher, A. D., Duke, L. M., & Wilson, S. (2013). Paths of discovery: Comparing the search effectiveness of EBSCO Discovery Service, Summon, Google Scholar, and Conventional Library Resources. College & Research Libraries, 74(5), 464-488.

Images are stills from:

Kubrick, S. and Lyndon, V. (Producers), & Kubrick, S. (Director). (1968). 2001: A Space Oddysey [Motion picture]. US & UK: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) & Stanley Kubrick Productions.

Image 1 accessed from: http://afflictor.com/2014/11/26/i-think-my-favorite-scene-was-where-im-dismantling-hals-brain/, 10/14/2016.

Image 2 accessed from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARJ8cAGm6JE, 10/14/2016. Altered by the addition of a caption by Jones, K.E.



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