Alice’s story

Alice Torjussen

Working with dogs isn’t as easy as humans – you can’t just ask a dog their opinion of a piece of technology.” Alice Torjussen
Animal-Computer Interaction PhD

‘My PhD in Animal-Computer Interaction combines a mixture of engineering/design, computer science and animal behaviour/cognition. I’m investigating dogs’ perception of disembodied technology. That is, technology that lets you communicate with others without having to physically be there, such as Skype or FaceTime.

Humans have used technology-based communication for decades, and we’re able to understand that the person on the screen/voice from the speaker is a real human, and can create a mental representation of the person.

However, it’s unclear whether dogs are also capable of this. They rely much on their sense of smell, but are they still able to identify their owner (for example by voice or on video) even when they’re not there physically? This is important as more and more technology is being created to let humans communicate with their home-alone dogs.

Working with dogs isn’t as easy as humans – you can’t just ask a dog their opinion of a piece of technology. You have to design studies in a specific way and examine their behaviours to work out the answer.

My ultimate goal would be to find out whether communication through technology can replace typical human-dog communication and, if it can, to create a piece of tech that could allow us to communicate with dogs remotely with just as much effectiveness/meaning as when we call our own family members.

My research will help improve the lives of dogs and humans. We have a specific focus on improving the lives of assistance dogs, and indirectly, the lives of their disabled owners. For example, in summer 2019 we created a treat dispenser to allow people with tetraplegia/paralysed from the neck down to give treats to their assistance dogs.

Their positive responses and the idea that we could create a piece of technology that makes a person’s life easier or improves their quality of life by enabling their dog to interact with a piece of technology motivates me the most.’

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