Business Unusual

Would you say 'please' and 'thank you' to a machine?

We have often talked about the 4th Industrial revolution in terms of its impact on labour, the economy and business, but we have not considered its impact on our manners.

The inspiration comes from a recent Time magazine piece by columnist John Patrick Pullen (subscription required).

He relates the story of his young son learning to speak in part from the interactions Pullen has with the family home automation device, an Amazon Echo. He would simply issue instructions to the device and it would comply. When his son began to copy him, he wondered if he would know to treat people differently from the machine.

It appears that children are more focused on your behaviour than who it is directed at and whether it was justified. So it stands to reason children will learn as much from our treatment of machines than they will learn from our treatment of others; a point that parenting expert Nikki Bush makes.

The Australian NGO Child Friendly illustrated the point with the hard-hitting ad below.

Machines are typically programmed to be polite and have a history of being so (remember C3PO in Star Wars). Yet in not treating them, understandably, just like humans, we tend to default to treating them badly.

It is difficult to suggest you need to treat a machine as anything other than a machine, but then the reason for doing so is not to humour the machine but to maintain our civility.

Movies are hardly the best indicator for this, but many examples exist of faithful servant machines treated poorly by their owners or the dutiful machine rising up against a perceived unjust owner. It may reflect a truth about how we will treat them though. We are certainly happy to take out our anger at them.

Dr Helgo Schomer makes the point that while we tend to consider the impact the machines will have on us, it is actually the impact we will have on each other as a result of the interactions with machines that is the real indicator of our future.

Online communications tend to be far more critical than a face-to-face interactions. We know it is an issue but we somehow treat emails and social posts as not requiring the same level of civility that you would if you were talking to someone. It seems fair to assume we will do the same when interacting with machines.

Treating a machine badly is probably not that different from the justification that someone might hold for treating animals the same way.

Humanity's history of the treatment of others is terrible and we tend to start by treating others badly and only change when forced to.

Does it still seem like such a bad idea to say "please" and "thank you" to a machine if it means we will continue to say "please" and "thank you" to each other?

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