"Human laughter as we know it likely developed between ten and 16 million years
ago. For context, the stone tools our distant human ancestors made in the Early
Stone Age date back around 2.6 million years. These are vast time spans, but it
was perhaps good that our Palaeolithic ancestors had a sense of humour ready to
deal with tech fails such as a blunt hammerstone.
Why does this matter? Well, let’s fast forward to today and our contemporary
issues with technology, such as how to deal with the things we’ve made when
they fail us. Anger is a common response (see the video below) – but tech
companies would much rather harness the soothing power of laughter.
Social animals that we are, humans have built important societal functions
around laughter in a thousand different ways.
Laughter can repair a conversation gone awry. It can signal that we support
someone in a group or think we belong to a community. It can be a flirtation
device or simply suggest benevolence when engaging with others. Some people use
laughter to manufacture instant feelings of trust. Others laugh at a funerals.
The short-term effects of laughter are medically proven. It can send endorphins
to the brain and reduce depression and anxiety symptoms. Laughter can even
raise one’s pain thresholdby as much as 10%.
However, one of the social functions of laughter that interests tech giants and
online app developers is its ability to soothe and to smooth. In an era in
which we are increasingly reliant on digital devices and a rapidly growing
online service industry, humour can be a potent form of stress relief.
Clearly, big industry players would prefer we hold on to our devices rather
than angrily quitting or hitting them whenever an error 404 message appears. Or
an update seems stuck at 10% completion. Laughter helps us to deal with these
If our virtual assistants, cybernetic robots, and digital avatars can emote a
sense of humour that pleases us, the logic is that this will help us tolerate
the irksome aspects of technology."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics