For thousands of years, we spoke to each other. For the majority of that time, we even spoke to ourselves. Now we speak to machines.
As we enter the age of voice, is it possible that technology may compromise our ability to be polite?
My kids talk to Alexa and ask it to do things for them -- to play music and answer questions on their homework. They ask the TV to find a show for them to watch.
They are used to speaking to a machine, asking it to do something, and getting what they want. This is setting up a very poor precedent, since they never have to say “please” or “thank you” to get something.
Often after they make a request of Alexa, they then talk to me or my wife and ask us to do things for them. We ask them to always use “please” and “thank you.”
I find that when I speak to Alexa and ask it to tell me the weather and it responds, I still say, “Thank you.” For me, that is second nature. Alexa doesn’t respond and say, “You’re welcome,” but it should.
I was raised that you always had good manners, especially when asking for things. My kids are being raised the same way, but a portion of their questions don’t require that common courtesy be involved. As they get more and more comfortable talking to the machines, can we get the machines to respond using a modicum of manners?
There’s another saying I heard once that, “Celebrities are just like you and me. They wake up in the morning and they go to sleep at night. The only difference is that in between, nobody ever says no to them.”
I’m sure that’s an unfair characterization, but in some way it’s possible we’re raising a generation of digitally oriented “celebrities” where every every request will be honored and no manners will be expected. I certainly hope not.
AI should be used to augment our natural abilities, enable us to do more, and do it better. Voice activation of AI should make it simpler to tap into these systems. I also have a hope that AI can be programmed to mimic gratitude and at least perpetuate the natural human interaction that requires manners and the aforementioned common courtesy.
I can’t imagine it would be so hard to program in some triggers for courtesy. If the AI hears “thank you,” it should say “you’re welcome” and reward that polite engagement. In the movies, that courtesy between machines and humans exists. Hal and H.E.R. and most of the AI we see on the screen have these elements embedded, so hopefully the developers of today are taking note. If you want to humanize technology, you should incorporate the best of human habits and attempt to make the interaction comforting.
So here’s hoping that my kids, and their kids, as they increase their engagement with machines, never lose track of the things that keep our conversations respectful.
Here‘s to being polite.