Thanks Alexa! Study warns digital assistants could make children less polite

PROVO, Utah — Are artificial intelligence-based digital assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa making people less polite? After installing one of these helpful devices in their home, many people tend to speak rudely or shout orders at their tiny robotic helper, causing some to speculate if all that dictating may influence how we interact with real people as well.

That’s the question a team of researchers from Brigham Young University set out to answer, and they were surprised by what they discovered. According to their findings, digital assistants are not making adult users more impolite in their day-to-day dealings with others — yet. Researchers speculate that future generations, who are growing up with these digital assistants right now, may be more influenced by their interactions with them.

“Worried parents and news outlets alike have fretted about how the personification of digital assistants affects our politeness, yet we have found little reason to worry about adults becoming ruder as a result of ordering around Siri or Alexa,” explains James Gaskin, associate professor of information systems at BYU, in a release. “In other words, there is no need for adults to say “please” and “thank you” when using a digital assistant.”

A total of 274 young adults took part in the study, all of whom completed a survey and agreed to a period of observation.

Gaskin and his team say they expected to find that adults were in fact becoming less polite due to their digital assistants, but their research indicates that current devices are still too robotic and dissimilar to actual people to impact human-to-human interactions.

That being said, the study’s authors aren’t so sure they would find the same results if they observed children. Children growing up today with a digital assistant in their home are still developing behavioral habits that they will likely keep well into adulthood, making them much more impressionable. On a related note, both Google and Amazon have recently added features to their digital assistants that thank and compliment young users whenever they speak to the device respectfully.

Furthermore, as time goes on these digital assistants are only going to become more advanced and humanlike. Researchers say that more advanced and anthropomorphic digital assistants will almost certainly have a greater impact on human behavior.

The research is set to be presented this week at the Americas Conference on Information Systems.

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