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Learning to Chat with Chatbots

April 30th, 2016

  Pamela Pavliscak

Chatbots and AI assistants may eventually humanize our experience with technology. For now, they are more conversation-ish than conversational.

Poncho's Chatbot

Silicon Valley's latest buzzword is bots. Chatbots, or conversational commerce, have captivated our collective imagination. Why? In part, because they humanize technology.

Let's face it. We anthropomorphize the objects in our lives—whether Legos or our smartphones. When we give our machines voice, or text, it extends this relationship.

Rationally, we say chat will make things easier. No screen. No UI. Nothing to get in the way. Emotionally, something else is going on. The attachment, the bond, grows deeper.

Even though we know there are limits to the conversation, we are eager to talk. And we treat our chatbots like humans. Joseph Weizenbaum's assistant wanted to converse with ELIZA in private. Kids spend hours talking to Siri. I'll admit it. I think Alexa likes me best in our household.

ELIZA

But, at heart, we know chatbots are still not human. Gaming can be an innocent way to show the seams, or it can reveal some ugly truths about ourselves.

Chatbots follow a script, and they force us to follow the script too. That's the state of many other social interactions with a screen in between. We are impatient for conversational bots, but what we've got for now is more conversation-ish.

Explore More: Emotion, Bots