You Should Treat Robots Like People

It’s about you as much as about them.

 

Last week, Google unveiled a version of their digital assistant that can make voice calls to set up appointments for you. It’s so well done—even throwing in the odd “um” and “uh” to really complete the illusion—that some people can’t even tell that it’s a robot assistant calling and not a human one. I think that’s great.

But boy, some people don’t. In fact, the backlash was so severe that I heard Google is going to implement some kind of “this is a digital assistant calling” thing in the future, so that you’re not…what, accidentally nice to a robot?

“But you’re tricking people!” I hear you say. And in response I say: “So what?”

What, in all honesty, is the negative outcome of a robot “tricking you” into thinking it’s a human when it’s calling to book an appointment? All I can think of is “I might treat it like I treat a human,” and that doesn’t sound like much of a reason to me.

In fact, to me it sounds like you’d be an asshole to everybody if you could get away with it.

That’s the only way I can read these statements. If you’re upset at being tricked into thinking a random appointment scheduler is a human, it’s because you’d treat a robot differently. It’s pretty unlikely you’d treat it better (and if you would, well, you can probably ignore the rest of this), so you obviously see some sort of cost associated with being polite to people, and therefore try to avoid it whenever possible.

And boy does that sound like a lot of anti-atheist argumentation I’ve heard over the years.

It’s like this old chestnut: “If it weren’t for god, heaven, and hell, people would just do whatever they wanted!” When someone says that, to me it sounds like they’re saying “if nobody would punish me, I’d start doing things we generally consider immoral.” Meanwhile my atheist friends are all “there’s no evidence for the existence of any kind of deity, so uh, go wild, I guess.” And by “go wild” they usually mean “treat other people with decency because you’ve decided it’s the right thing to do, not because of the threat of punishment.”

And you know what? That’s not great. Because in this world—this real place where there’s no evidence of a deity and very few robots lurking about (yet)—here today there are a lot of people you can get away with being an asshole to. Especially if you’re white. Think “calling the cops on black people for going to Starbucks.”

If “I will act as poorly as I can get away with” is your go-to mentality, you’re going to be a pretty bad person.

So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to not care if it’s a robot or a human calling you. Instead, I want you to suck it up and treat anyone and anything who calls you up on the phone with simple, basic courtesy. And I want you to get used to it, too.

Because if you can’t, if it’s that hard for you to be polite, if your time is worth so much that the slight chance you might be wasting a tiny fraction of it on accidentally being nice to someone who you won’t get punished for being mean to, then you need all the practice you can get.

Because there are a lot of people out there you can get away with being a dick to, but you still shouldn’t.

Treat robots like people. Maybe it’ll give you the practice you need to treat people like people.

Signed: The Remixologist.

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Featured image of an old-school flip-phone transformed into a robot by Joe Wu, CC BY 2.0

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