The impossibility of collaborating with kathy: 'The stupid bitch'


In this paper I question the use of collaborative virtual agents. Researchers are aware that building long-term human-computer relationships with embodied agents is difficult and that users are often hostile towards interactive agents. These problems are often blamed on technological limitations that irritate the user and disrupt the userís suspension of disbelief. It is assumed that once these technological issues are resolved, the social cues exhibited by the agents will automatically call forth socially appropriate responses. The assumption that people will behave nicely when given a believable interface is largely based on the media equation, or the idea that people treat media the same way they treat people. There are situations, however, where the media equation fails. This is particularly evident in situations involving abusive behavior. Rather than attempting to understand human-computer interaction through the filter of the media equation, or social theory, it might be more profitable to investigate theories, such as animism, anthropomorphism, personification, and semiotics, which explain how human beings relate to things. In this paper, I argue that an anthropomorphic tension is at odds with the suspension of disbelief, at least when dealing with animated agents, and that this tension provides a motivating ground for abusing agents. If this proves correct, it may be the case that users will deride and abuse collaborative agents no matter how veridical the interface.

Note: This is a very short paper on this topic (~2000 words). A more complete paper is in the works.

[full paper]