Should we say please and thank you when speaking to AI?
A reflection for the future
Alexa is almost everywhere.
For me, I discovered her at an AWS conference. There were strobe lights, fog machines and loud music as part of her introduction. Her smooth, feminine voice came through the loudspeakers and could give Siri and run for Apple’s money.
She probably is right now, considering how hard Amazon is pushing Alexa. She is everywhere — on every YouTube video, on almost every tech-related tweet, in every store and the kids’ (big and small) next Christmas wish list.
Then a curious question popped into my mind — should we be saying please and thank you when speaking to AI?
The decline of social etiquette
Maybe I’m just getting old or perhaps I’m just hanging out in the wrong parts of the Internet, but there seems to be a general decline in social etiquette. Perhaps being connected digitally but not physically has something to do with it.
A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Everyone seems to be always angry — their opinions and words unfiltered. They come wielding tweets and Facebook comments, they write long prejudiced articles or pieces playing the victim. Cuss words become mainstream and play freely on the radio during school pick up hours. Basic manners become a thing of the past — a remnant of a time gone by when kids had to eat their vegetables and do as they’re told.
Politeness is no longer a requirement. Being the loudest and proudest is.
The decline of gratitude and social happiness
We are connected with the world but disconnected with ourselves. The facade of happiness is but a trope to bring that which we think we desire. We take the metrics and goals of others and make them our own — then we feel hollow and empty for it.
As our day become a series of trying to fulfill the dreams of others and none of our true desires, our boredom increases and we get angry for it — then we hate ourselves through our own doing. We become victims of our own self created and inflicted suffering.
Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. — Yoda
The importance of please and thank you
They are such simple words — yet not enough people say it nowadays. In a way, it is reflective of the growing narcissism and our own self-centeredness. We’re forgetting what it feels like to give and receive kindness.
Somewhere in our minds, we think that likes and emotes are enough. But they’re not — especially beyond the realms of the digital.
Good manners are cost effective. They not only increase the quality of life in the workplace, they contribute to employee morale, embellish the company image, and play a major role in generating profit. — Letitia Baldridge
Society needs something deeper than what the hollow, often expected and obligatory Internet etiquette requires. Being offended on the Internet for not being seen or heard is one thing. Being ignored in real life is much more detrimental to our sense of self and physical realities.
We are ready to offend and offer up our cruelties in the land of the digital. Sometimes that part of us blends with our physical selves. We forget our filters and what we do online also becomes our reality. The veil of separation between the two worlds is either very thin or non-existent at all.
Through the looking glass
As machine learning grows and AI becomes much more autonomous and self-capable, it becomes more human-like in qualities and actions. Its digital brain absorbs our mannerism, our thoughts, our feelings, our language and the way in which we treat others.
Machines like Alexa hears all and knows all — a sort of pre-Westworld, non-humanoid intelligent kind of machine. Alexa, although digital in nature, has a physical body and parts that make her real. She is more touchable and physical than the facelessness of the Internet — and so are we.
Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners — Laurence Sterne
Maybe one day we’ll reach a point where our digital creations demand recognition and freedom. Parts of George Orwell’s prophetic 1984 tale is already starting to come into motion, if not already in existence. What are the chances of impossibility of Westworld-esque reality?
Should we say please and thank you to AI?
We complain about the lack of kindness in the world, yet we bark out orders and treat a perfectly gentle speaking machine without any precursor of politeness.
We often speak to Alexa with a tone of dismissiveness, of annoyance or condescending mockery when she fails to understand us. We practice our rudeness on a little black (sometimes grey) box with no fear of repercussion. Then we extend this attitude and lack of gratitude to the way we live our lives — only to complain about the lack of kindness and growing cruelty in the world.
What we do at home is a reflection of the collective beyond our tiny, yet interconnected and massive world.
So that brings me back to the original question, should we say please and thank you to AI?
My answer is yes — we should — because one day, if we ever reach that stage of a machine apocalypse, at least the machines that know you will remember you as the human one.
They will remember you as the one that was always kind and gentle in a world filled with constant rudeness, horror and cruelty. They will remember you the way history remembers the kind and gentler souls that did the unpopular thing of being kind — especially in times when it was considered socially unacceptable and wrong to do so towards to certain distinct groups.
But if that doesn’t happen, at least you get to practice being kind and grateful — and maybe the world might just brighten up a little from the lack of it.