Did You Thank Your Artificially Intelligent Robot Today?

Were you taught proper etiquette when you were growing up? Did your parents insist on your being polite at all times, and did your parents teach you good manners? These are words we don’t often hear today: etiquette, polite, manners. I started to think about these terms and how they might be differentiated:

The experts inform us that etiquette refers to those conventions which govern a society or culture representative of good behavior. Nancy Mueller states “Proper etiquette begins by showing respect for others, being honest and trustworthy, putting others at ease, and showing kindness and courtesy to others”. After these attributes are considered then one can focus on specific situations regarding etiquette…putting your napkin on your lap at the dinner table, passing food around the table, asking to be excused, etc.

Politeness is defined as behavior that is respectful and considerate of others. Being polite is showing good manners toward others.

Now manners have been defined as polite behaviors that reflect consideration, kindness, and respect for others.

You notice immediately when sharing these terms that their definitions overlap and one seems dependent on the other. Nancy Mueller shares: etiquette provides the form or structure within which good manners and polite behavior operate. Both are integral to effective human interactions.

This brings me to my point — human interactions. Has technology robbed a generation of children the ability to interact with each other in an effective, polite manner, and has this generation lost the mores and appropriate etiquette of our society? Do we still believe in that body of “behavioral rules” known as etiquette, or is our perspective on manners changing?

Artificial Intelligence is arguably taking over a large portion of our world. Smart Homes are becoming the norm. Children are talking to Alexa, Siri and Google to do a large number of tasks on a daily basis, such as turning on the lights, turning on the television and changing the channels. When you give an AI a “command”, it does not include any form of good manners that we were taught at such a young age like “please” and “thank you”. Now, this may seem crazy right now. Who in the world needs to say thank you to a computer? However, to a child, could a command to an “intelligent” mechanical form be transformed into an intelligent biological form? Let’s look at an example. You want your AI, Alexa (or whatever AI system you might have) to turn on your lights. The command is “Alexa, turn on the lights” Alexa performs the command and end of scene. It is quite conceivable that our children will speak to us in this same commanding manner. “Mom, get me my book”! “Luke, play this game with me now!”

Would it not make more sense for our Artificial Intelligence manufacturers to build-in “manners” into the AI unit? Then the command would not react nor perform the function unless it heard, “Alexa, would you please turn on the lights?” The subsequent response would be, “Thank you, Alexa” to which the AI would respond, “You are welcome.” Such a simple change in AI interaction could make a significant difference in our children acquiring a system of better manners.

It is also a safe bet that the tasks that AI will do for us in the future will be exponentially more. For example, would anyone be surprised if we tell our refrigerator to call the grocery store and place our food order? We can already tell our cars to start their engine for us. Over the next ten to twenty years we can only imagine what these AI forms will be accomplishing on our behalf. I recommend we let these manufacturers know now that we expect them to include mannerly conversations in both their old and new units.

So far we have discussed the manufacturers’ responsibility in recognizing the importance of etiquette and polite manners, but we also have a tremendous responsibility in this digital age to teach our children manners and also to demonstrate those manners in our homes and at school. Do you sit at the dinner table and read your cell phone emails? Do your children play video games in a restaurant? I submit that there are times and places for our technology, and the dinner table is not one of them, whether that table is at home or in a restaurant. These are the rules that should govern your “tech etiquette” at home.

Lastly, is there “tech etiquette” that shares when it is appropriate to text message as opposed to a phone call? If not, there should be. Can we agree that there are certain situations that are totally inappropriate to support a text? Making a phone call has far more communication opportunities. The voice can reflect something light-hearted or intense. A text cannot. In my opinion, the appropriate use of text messaging would be to inform your friend that you will be 15 minutes late for your meeting. An inappropriate use of texting would be to argue your point about a business decision.

In a world that is changing at breakneck speed, there are some things that we do not want to see left behind. The best way to protect our cultural etiquette is to help build that foundation for our children. As a society we need to prioritize those items that might be left behind and decide if that is ok or if we need to make changes now so we do not lose our identity as a society in our future. The best way to solidify our priorities for the future is to embed them in our children. In the current state of our world, it might be important to prioritize etiquette. One could debate that we may have already lost proper etiquette in our society. That can all be changed if we make a conscious effort. Starting simple and using our current technology might be a way to do this. Let’s make etiquette and polite manners a priority in our technology education.