AI-based ‘smart’ communication way to go during a pandemic

Daily life during a pandemic means social distancing and finding new ways to remotely connect with friends, family and co-workers via Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based ‘smart systems could play a major role in keeping our conversations on track, say researchers.

According to the study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, humans having difficult conversations said they trusted artificially intelligent systems – the ‘smart’ reply suggestions in texts – more than the people they were talking to.

“We find that when things go wrong, people take the responsibility that would otherwise have been designated to their human partner and designate some of that to the artificial intelligence system,” said study first author Jess Hohenstein from Cornell University in the US.

“This introduces a potential to take AI and use it as a mediator in our conversations, for example, the algorithm could notice things are going downhill by analyzing the language used, and then suggest conflict-resolution strategies,” Hohenstein added.

The study was an attempt to explore the myriad ways – both subtle and significant – that AI systems such as smart replies are altering how humans interact.

Choosing a suggested reply that’s not quite what you intended to say, but saves you some typing, might be fundamentally altering the course of your conversations – and your relationships, the researchers said.

“Communication is so fundamental to how we form perceptions of each other, how we form and maintain relationships, or how we’re able to accomplish anything working together,” said co-author Malte Jung.

“This study falls within the broader agenda of understanding how these new AI systems mess with our capacity to interact,” Jung said.

“We often think about how the design of systems affects how we interact with them, but fewer studies focus on the question of how the technologies we develop affect how people interact with each other,” Jung added.

In addition to shedding light on how people perceive and interact with computers, the study offers possibilities for improving human communication – with subtle guidance and reminders from AI.

The researchers said they sought to explore whether AI could function as a “moral crumple zone” – the technological equivalent of a car’s crumple zone, designed to deform in order to absorb the crash’s impact.

“There’s a physical mechanism in the front of the car that’s designed to absorb the force of the impact and take responsibility for minimizing the effects of the crash,” Hohenstein said.

“Here we see the AI system absorb some of the moral responsibility,” Hohenstein added.

Artificial IntelligenceCornell UniversitycoronavirusCovid-19LockdownPandemic
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