Are you polite with your robot?

Alexa, embedded in Amazon Echo, is your ever present information concierge. You can talk nicely to her (?) or you can swear. She'll respond with equal courtesy. Credit: Amazon

Technology opens up new unchartered roads. And along the path we discover questions that go beyond technology.

Over the weekend I was at the IEEE board and gave a presentation on new emerging technology. One of the point I put on the table was that organisations like IEEE cannot limit their responsibility area to foster the development of technologies (for the benefit of humanity - as the IEEE banner states). They also need to look into the grey areas, considering aspects like 

  • the divide created among those that can afford (economically and culturally) the adoption of a technology and those who cannot;
  • the ethical issues the application and use of a technology can bring to the fore;
  • the cultural aspects "in the large".

Just today I stepped onto a post by Shelly Palmer on the way he is interacting with Alexa. Alexa is a personal assistant embedded in Amazon Echo that interact with you as you speak to her (?). You can ask a variety of questions, look at the clip to get a flavour, and you can ask these questions in different ways. You can be brusque or you can be polite, you can start with "Dear Alexa" or "Damn Alexa". Apparently she won't care and will answer you as best as she can.

How should you talk to Alexa, is there a "code of conduct" when talking to a machine, a robot? Should yo show appreciation for the answer saying "Thanks Alexia" or you just don't bother?

As for myself, I decided long time ago to ut human machine interaction on the same level as human to human interaction. Since many years when stopping at the highway automated tool boot I reply to the voice wishing me "have a nice trip" with a "Thanks". Why do I do that? Because I wanted to be consistent in the education of my kids. When somebody tells you something kind, you thank her/him.  

Now it has become a habit, even when traveling along I still thank the automated tool booth. Bordering on crazy? Possibly.

As machine will become more and more "empathic" and will interact more and more with us I would consider that we should apply them the same courtesy we bestow our fellow human beings. Of course, I can be the only one thinking, and feeling, like this.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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