From Slot Machines to Self-Tracking Devices: An Anthropologist Story

Natasha Schüll human-machine interaction
Natasha Schüll is a cultural anthropologist who explores questions at the nexus of human-machine interaction. (Image credit: NSF)

This ScienceLives article was provided to Live Science in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

Cultural anthropologist Natasha Schüll bridged the gap between human interaction and machine workings in her research on gambling. Her book Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, published in 2012, was borne as a result of an undergraduate thesis she began at age 19. In it, she examines the connection between compulsive gamblers and the design of the slot machines they play. Also, Schüll directed the documentary, BUFFET: All You Can Eat Las Vegas, showcasing the “designed gluttony” of the Vegas buffet scene. The film has screened in film festivals and on PBS. 

Her current research focuses on the design and use of self-tracking devices — such as when individuals use digital software to record and graphically visualize personal data — and examines what these behaviors say about society’s changing cultural and political values.

Schüll is an associate professor at MIT’s Program in Science, Technology and Society and received her B.A. and PhD from University of California, Berkeley. 

Name: Natasha Schüll Age: 43 Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Field of Study: Anthropology

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