When I was working on a project to design and install educational computer kiosks in an art museum, I met a person who was working on a similar project. We traded war stories about how hard it was to get users to understand what to do with the early, pre-Web touchscreens that we were designing. My woes were nothing compared to those of my colleague–his users were orangutans at the National Zoo!
The initial installation didn’t go as anticipated. The minute the orangutan saw the new computer, he went up to it, lifted it–though it was bolted down–and carried it over his head triumphantly. NOT the expected behavior! It turned out that territoriality was the culprit. The ape did not like people imposing changes in his space.
Eventually, the team decided to make it possible for the orangs to opt for computer learning. They devised a transportation system of ropes that the apes could use to get from their living space to the learning center. They call it the “O Line”.
Success! Exciting results have shown that orangs are as capable of linguistic learning as any of the apes. Now scientists are hoping that at some point, people and orangs will be able to have two-way conversations via computers.
Who knows? Maybe some day an orangutan will comment on my blog!