Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Wave of the future - trusting machines that talk to us.

We're reading that in 10 years we might be able to buy autonomous cars that do the driving for us. Waytz et al. do an interesting study of the psychological consequence of endowing such vehicles with a voice. They monitor self report of emotions and fluctuations in heart rate while subjects either operate a driving simulator themselves, or become the passenger driven by an autonomous that does or doesn't speak to them. Not surprisingly, audio communication increases the sense of liking and trust. Also in the aftermath of a simulated collision programmed so as to be unavoidable, the vocal vehicle is more likely to be absolved of blame. The subjects have attributed human agency to a machine, which I was just doing while driving back to Madison WI from my winter nest in Fort Lauderdale, and found myself cursing the teutonic female voice of my GPS navigator. Here are their highlights and abstract:

-Anthropomorphism of a car predicts trust in that car.
-Trust is reflected in behavioral, physiological, and self-report measures.
-Anthropomorphism also affects attributions of responsibility/punishment.  
Sophisticated technology is increasingly replacing human minds to perform complicated tasks in domains ranging from medicine to education to transportation. We investigated an important theoretical determinant of people's willingness to trust such technology to perform competently—the extent to which a nonhuman agent is anthropomorphized with a humanlike mind—in a domain of practical importance, autonomous driving. Participants using a driving simulator drove either a normal car, an autonomous vehicle able to control steering and speed, or a comparable autonomous vehicle augmented with additional anthropomorphic features—name, gender, and voice. Behavioral, physiological, and self-report measures revealed that participants trusted that the vehicle would perform more competently as it acquired more anthropomorphic features. Technology appears better able to perform its intended design when it seems to have a humanlike mind. These results suggest meaningful consequences of humanizing technology, and also offer insights into the inverse process of objectifying humans.

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