A fan that feels

Back in December 2019, I had written about the Malayalam film ‘Android Kunjappan Ver 5.25’ and how machines/bots/robots simulate human emotions and feelings.

Within that context, I had written about how my daughter treats Alexa:

Does the bot really feel when it is saying, ‘Hope you feel better today’ like we humans do? Or is it merely executing a task it is programmed to? This is not an easy question to answer since humans can simulate such things too – in the service industries, people are trained to on similar levels using flowcharts, to ask something laden with empathy so that their conversation becomes more fruitful. But when a human says, ‘I hope…’, you ascribe that intent to that person’s feelings, whereas, when a chatbot says that, you don’t know who to ascribe that ‘I’ to!

This is a tiny step ahead in the journey towards AI.

We have 3 Alexa interfaces in our home. One on the TV (through a FireStick) and 2 stand-alone Alexa devices, one each for the kids. While we adults and our 16-year-old son use the device by treating it like a machine, our 9-year-old daughter’s interactions with it are more interesting. She says ‘Thank you’, ‘Good night’, and other such things to Alexa. She also asks Alexa how she’s feeling, only to get a ‘I don’t understand that question’ response. Yet, she continues to try to treat Alexa like it is a human in the house, despite not getting adequately human-like responses from the bot.

The next generation may grow up along with chatbots much earlier in their life and hence may come to treat them as human-like, unlike our current and older generations who see it with the necessary cynicism that they deserve – that they are simply machines programmed to enact a series of conversations.

So, it is good to see this narrative, of how children perceive AI/machines that talk, being contextually used as creative device in an advertisement – Havells’ new ‘smart’ fans range: Stealth Wood and Carnesia I range of fans.

These fans are billed as ‘IoT-enabled’, meaning they can be operated by voice (connected to Alexa or Google Home) and through your smartphone. They are also said to include sensors for temperature and humidity sensing, though, by this logic, they may not stop spinning at all in Chennai 🙂

Also, the price range of the fans is from INR 7,000 to 12,000+! For that price, I’d assume that the target audience may consider extending the budget and investing in a low-end air conditioner or an air cooler. Also, smart plugs are available as cheap as INR 700 on Amazon, and these can ‘smarten’ any device, including fans where you can control them via voice (Alexa or Google-enabled) and through your phone. The only addition offered by Havells is the sensors in the fan that sense temperature and humidity and act accordingly.

How does the brand depict a fan that can sense the temperature and humidity by itself, and that can be controlled through your voice?

The agency, Mullen Lintas, has a clever take: when a fan senses temperature and humidity in the room and is able to ‘listen’ to you, it is tantamount to it having ‘feelings’. So, it is a ‘Feeling Fan’, more than simply being a ‘Ceiling Fan’. This is clever framing, and when it is fronted by children, it becomes both believable and cute.

The TV ad has a child operating it through voice (Alexa-controlled) and pointing to another kids’ sweat as a reason for the fan spinning faster on its own.

Children, in their innocence (created by limited world-view and exposure), tend to humanize anything that responds to them, even if it happens to be a machine. So the creative device of framing it as a ‘Feeling Fan’ is perfect.

Interestingly, if you look past a ceiling fan being framed as a feeling fan, there is really something called ‘Feeling Fan’ that does not have anything to do with a ceiling fan!

The ‘Feeling Fan’ is a teaching aid/tool used by teachers for young children when they are not able to fully articulate how they are feeling. So, this aid is usually in the shape of a Japanese fan (not a ceiling fan) with each blade indicating a feeling. This is usually offered as a printable resource that teachers or parents can download and print, and explain to children how to use it.

The tool is also somewhat similar to ‘Reactions’ on Facebook or LinkedIn, reducing the complexity of your expression to a singular feeling or emotion. When indulged by adults, it seems inadequate and wrong, but from a child’s point of view, it is a useful tool, particularly for children who have difficulty in expressing their feelings.



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