Saturday, December 2

Robots + Manners

For Christmas, the kids gave Ben Blair an Alexa. It’s the first home digital assistant we’ve tried — though, now that I think about it, our iPhones have Siri, so I guess Alexa isn’t technically our first.

We’ve never been big Siri users, but we’ve found we use Alexa quite a bit — mostly for playing music and setting timers.

The kids tease me because I tend to use please and thank you when talking to Alexa. “Hey Alexa, would you please set a timer for 45 mins?” Alexa confirms, and then without missing a beat I might reply, “Thanks Alexa, I appreciate that.” Sometimes I find myself complimenting her. “Thank you Alexa, that’s exactly what I needed. Good job.”

I’m not trying to be obnoxious, it’s just the force of habit — I’ve been saying please and thank you in these types of simple interactions my whole life.

Obviously, I know Alexa doesn’t require me to use basic manners, and it doesn’t change or improve her performance. But what if it did? And… should it? Meaning, would it be better for human beings if our digital assistants encouraged good manners? 

My thinking is this: Are manners important? If yes, should we reinforce good manners when we can? If Alexa was a little bit more responsive when someone says please, would that encourage good manners? Would Alexa’s encouragement to use good manners overflow to interactions between two humans? And if your kids use Alexa and don’t say please and thank you, are they learning bad habits that will effect their human relationships?

Despite the questions I just posed, this is not a topic I spend time thinking about or worrying about in any way. Mostly, I think this is a silly topic, and I don’t expect people to say please and thank you to their digital assistants. But it does make me curious. Do you have a digital assistant? Do you find yourself saying please and thank you when talking to it? Would you prefer if your family members used good manners with your digital entities? Would you be more likely to use good manners if you knew your digital assistant had true artificial intelligence and could think on its own?

P.S. — Did you read about the six year old who used Alexa to help with his math homework?


Photo by Sarah Hebenstreit for the Design Mom book.

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