No, you're not sorry

| Comments (2) | Misc
The NYT's somewhat overwrought article about the putative future of AI includes the following egem:
Despite his concerns, Dr. Horvitz said he was hopeful that artificial intelligence research would benefit humans, and perhaps even compensate for human failings. He recently demonstrated a voice-based system that he designed to ask patients about their symptoms and to respond with empathy. When a mother said her child was having diarrhea, the face on the screen said, "Oh no, sorry to hear that."

A physician told him afterward that it was wonderful that the system responded to human emotion. "That's a great idea," Dr. Horvitz said he was told. "I have no time for that."

Maybe I'm just too close to the problem, but I pretty regularly get apologizies from pieces of machinery and I don't find them satisfying at all. For instance, nearly every phone tree in the universe apologizes for you having to wait, and United's IVR apologies for not understanding you. Maybe the first time you get this it's a surprise, but it doesn't take long to realize it's the same insincere recorded voice and then it's just "Must. Control. Fist. Of. Death." Also, anger doesn't help the IVR understand you.


Wait--you don't believe anyone appreciates insincere automatic apologies? Are you *sure* you're married? :^)

The UX researchers I deal with tell me that a very large fraction of computer users--possibly a majority--simply don't think at all mechanistically about the computers they interact with, let alone figure out any of the rule-based models--even the dead-simple ones--that govern their behavior. Rather, these users typically think of computers as mysterious, non-deterministic black boxes, and the sequences of actions that they respond to as arbitrary, mutually unrelated "spells" that magically cause the computer to respond correctly--or incorrectly, or not at all, depending on random inexplicable factors beyond anyone's control.

I don't have any specific data, but I expect that any user that thinks of a computer that way would consider a computer-generated "I'm sorry" to be a reassuring indicator that it's the computer's "fault", not the user's, that the computer is not responding the way the user intended.

Maybe the speech-recognizers for automated phone systems should be trained on angry voices. The one I dealt with most recently would require you to say long, fairly complicated sentences.

"If you are having a serious problem or emergency, please say, 'report a serious problem or emergency.' "

"Report a serious problem or emergency."


"I'm sorry, I couldn't understand you. Please try again. If you are having a serious problem or emergency, please say, 'Report a serious problem or emergency.' "

And so forth. What's wrong with, "Press 1 to report a serious problem or emergency"?

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