Essays on Technology and Culture

Ben Hammersley on Politeness and AIs

Ben Hammersley has some thoughts on how we interact with our personal AIs:

“It’s a little wrinkle in what is really a miraculous device, but it’s a serious thing: The Amazon Echo differs from Siri in that it’s a communally available service. Interactions with Alexa are available to, and obvious to, everyone in the house, and my inability to be polite with her has a knock-on effect. My daughter is too young to speak yet, but she does see and hear all of our interactions with Alexa. I worry what sort of precedent we are setting for her, in terms of her own future interactions with bots and AIs as well as with people, if she hears me being forced into impolite conversations because of the limitations of her household AI’s interface. It’s the computing equivilent of being rude to waitresses. We shouldn’t allow it, and certainly not by lack of design. Worries about toddler screen time are nothing, compared to future worries about not inadvertently teaching your child to be rude to robots.”

The Miscellaneous Tumbling of Mr Ben Hammersley – Possible Problems of Persona Politeness

I’ve not tried Alexa—the idea of having Amazon potentially listening in on everything in my apartment kinda freaks me out—but I use Siri. Now that I have an Apple Watch, I want to use it more. It’s telling that there’s still, four years on, people talking up Siri’s “Easter eggs” when you speak to it, and nobody’s said a thing about Alexa’s personality, or lack thereof, and what it could mean, until now.