Kinda Human / Definition Phase

Dates: August 2018 to October 2018
Team: Scott Dombkowski
Advisors: Stacie Rohrbach and Molly Wright Steenson
Work Type: Academic

The definition phase focused on investigating the theory, potential applications, and affordances of relevant research areas by conducting literature reviews, artifact reviews, and conversations with experts.


The definition phase was dedicated to understanding the theory, potential application, and affordances. I drew insights from literature, projects, and conversations with experts. While I paid particular attention to both conversation and intimate relationships, I consciously decided to look beyond those subjects and into learning theories, theoretical frameworks, and other areas that might provide a more robust understanding of the topic.

Map of Relevant Areas of Study

The following section outlines the findings pulled from the aforementioned inquiry (Additional in-depth reviews are available here). The discoveries I made informed my understanding of an intimate relationship and the nature of a relationship's conversations as a design space.

For a deep dive into the literature and artifact reviews and the insights gained please refer below.

Concepts Derived

After completing the literature review and artifact reviews, I began to develop and explore designs of an artificial agent that could enable fruitful conversations between intimate partners through varying levels of conversational symbiosis. I saw that shaping the quality of a conversation could provide an opportunity to better understand and grow the knowledge, caring, interdependence, mutuality, trust, and commitment in a relationship.

My model of intimate conversation and the concept of conversational symbiosis, both of which I employed in my work throughout the year, emerged through my in-depth literary research.

Model of Intimate Conversation

With my review of the literature in hand, I created a model of intimate conversations derived from Dubberly and Pangaro's "Process of Conversation" (Dubberly & Pangaro, 2009). This model divides a conversation between intimate partners into five different phases:

  • Sharing PhaseWhere partners determine the subject of that conversation
  • Dialogue PhaseWhere partners exchange thoughts, ideas, and questions
  • Evolution PhaseWhere partners evolve their understanding of their partner and relationship
  • Response PhaseWhere partners take action based on this new understanding
  • Thinking PhaseA time for reflection that can inform that individual's next conversation with their partner, or next action taken

Model of an Intimate Conversation

These conversations are made up of exchanges occurring in an environment of noise or distraction and usually happen through a platform. Messages originate from one partner and move from the immaterial world where it is conceived to the physical world where it is conveyed over a tool to the other partner and back to the immaterial world. The receiver has the ability to return a message using the same process.

Model of an Intimate Exchange

This model provided me with a map of potential points for intervention. This could include designing an experience for thinking and reflecting or constructing a message that moves from the immaterial to the material world.

Conversational Symbiosis

This literature review also informed my concept of conversational symbiosis. Conversational symbiosis is an intimate cooperation that embraces differences, takes advantage of competencies, and promotes a mutual understanding to augment the intellect of two or more dissimilar things in ways they can not achieve themselves. Conversational symbiosis served as my guiding principle throughout this project. Without conversational symbiosis, an artificial agent cannot effectively integrate into an experience centered around expression and understanding in intimate relationships.

Next Phase

To learn more about the different studies, and how each was designed to acquire a more comprehensive understanding of the models users have of artificial agents and intimate relationships, please refer to the exploratory phase of my research.