No — Alexa & Siri are not your friends
We want technology to be your ‘friend’, but it’s important to remember that technology is not your friend. That’s according to scientists this week.
Despite the rise of human-named assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri — and even iRobot’s ‘pet’ Roomba vacuum — people have never reported feeling more alone.
So is getting friendly with our apps and devices a help or a hinderance?
This week researchers published their findings as to whether anthropomorphic products are actually capable of fulfilling our social needs — and if so, at what cost?
To answer this question, they provoked test subjects to feel excluded (some wrote about a time they were left out of social situations; others took part in an online game of catch, where the ball stops being thrown to them). The subjects then had the opportunity to interact with ‘friendly’ products such as smartphone assistants or a Roomba.
In the short-term, these worked.
“What we find is that these anthropomorphic products can fulfil social assurance needs in the way that genuine, interpersonal interaction often does. But there are limits.”
Tech helps, but not for long
While anthropomorphic products can help us feel better, the study found that it’s not a long-term solution.
Simply reminding people that their robot friends aren’t real, for example, immediately makes any positive effect go away.
What’s more, pretending objects are alive may suppress the motivation to engage with real people, causing even greater feelings of loneliness.
It’s not that anthropomorphic products can’t do good: they can decrease the negative effects of loneliness and support real life interaction. The report argues that having friendly health monitors to help real nurses in hospital care, for example, could be fantastic.
But in day-to-day life, as they improve and become more human, they could isolate us even more.
Alexa and Siri are not your real friends.