Tales of the Park

 

Can geo-located ‘chatbots’ provide a way for people to safely explore security, safety and trust around Internet of Things devices.

 

Partners

University College London – Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis

 


15 Tales of the Park creatures were installed in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park between September and December 2017.

 


Each creature was named and painted by young people from the Olympic Boroughs.

 


To date, the Creatures have had conversations with more than 200 people, with more than 140 unique memories being submitted by Park visitors.

 

Tales of the Park is part of a research project being conducted to explore security, safety and trust around Internet of Things devices. The research takes the form of an installation of 15 creatures that visitors to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park can chat to on their smartphones.

The project builds on the success of the ‘Tales of Things’ platform, a website and app which allows people to attach memories to physical objects using QR codes. The creatures in the Park are fitted with Bluetooth Beacons, and are designed to allow researchers to ask questions such as: how are users able to understand the layers of code which augment our world? Do users understand the often transactional nature of data provision? And how does this affect their willingness to adopt such services?

Chatbots have a long history in computing, the first being ELIZA, developed by Joseph Weizenbaum in 1966 at MIT; however, it’s only recent advances in computing power that have made them reliable enough for general purpose use, especially when combined with speech processing.

At present, technology companies are competing to develop speech and text-based interfaces for use

both in the home and on the street. However, there are fundamental differences between a natural language interface and using a keyboard or touchscreen. With speech interfaces, the boundary between ‘using’ and ‘not using’ the device is blurred: for a device like Amazon Echo to function, for example, it needs to listen out for its activation keyword all the time – in other words, it’s always listening. Similarly, when engaging with chatbots on social media, it’s not always clear whether you are interacting with a computer or a human, and there’s lots of potential for people to inadvertently expose sensitive information to people who might not have their best interests at heart.

Tales of the Park is a playful, safe way to explore some of these issues. As you interact with the Creatures using your smartphone, they ask you for your memories of the park, and in return they’ll share what they know or what other people have said to them. They also remember you, and they talk about you with each other behind your back! We’re interested in what people will say to the creatures, whether they trust them, and what sort of things they will share with them.