Talking to computers, talking to humans

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I learned something interesting yesterday. On occasion, people prefer computers. I appreciate this is a generalisation.

These days, most of us are comfortable around computers – whether they are inside our phones, microwaves, TVs or something that is central to our working day. Computer communication is still something that is a little odd. Listening to computers speak, is again something that hasn’t quite taken-hold.

When in my car, using Sat Nav, I switch the computer voice off; I don’t really like Siri and its Windows equivalent, Cortana isn’t something I could ever envisage myself chatting with any time soon. Whether the voices remain Stephen Hawking’s-style, or more closely mimic those of people, their intonation, expression or accent, it never takes very long to know that you are communicating with an algorithm rather than a human.

Yet, despite the limitations of the technology – which will, one day, almost certainly be superseded by more colloquial, engaging and life-like robots, there is a major advantage to the robot as robot. We as humans, whether customers, users or providers, don’t mind being rude to robots, we don’t have a problem hanging-up on them when frustrated, we can tell them what we think or feel and have no expectation of either an empathic response or that we will hurt their feelings.

This, in my experience is at major variance with places such as call centres when we turn for support, where we encounter a human, for with humans, we have expectations – we don’t want to upset them (or be upset by them) and we expect something more; yet, when you phone the fire brigade, ‘The Tech Guys’ or 111, although you are speaking with a human, they are constrained by a set of parameters, which are mostly closely monitored and maintained for performance and reliability. Sure, you can have a joke with a human, but when they can’t address your question or your problem directly, because of the algorithm, their training or pressure of time, that can be frustrating.

Equally, computers can be less compassionate with us – although they have the technical ability to detect whether we are happy or sad, we don’t expect them to pick-up on this, we aren’t offended by them being rude or standoffish – they aren’t people, therefore we don’t judge them by human (mensch?) standards.

And the point of all this?

I’m not sure.

Computers and computer voices have a place in our society, not occupying the same ground as humans, but somewhere out-there. I think what is important is that we have humans being humane and if in situations where they are communicating with other humans, they must be allowed, supported and trained to interact humanely, leaving the algorithms to the computers.

We can all get-on nicely if we know where we are each coming-from and the expectations placed upon us are met.

Tel-Exchange

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