People mostly dispense with social norms of human interaction and treat machines differently. The behavior holds true even as machines became more "human" seeming, such as Amazon's Alexa or Morgan Freeman in your vehicle navigation system.
Human default behavior is often driven by heuristic thinking -- the snap judgments people use to navigate complex daily interactions. The Uncanny Valley says that as artificial things begin to seem more human, but not close enough to pass for human, we are put off.
That all changed due to COVID-19. We got nicer toward our machine and other people.
A new paper showed this using the "dictator game," a popular method to measure altruism. The scientists selected people who had been adversely affected by COVID-19, based on measurements of stress, and then enrolled them in the roleplaying game - with a twist. In addition to engaging other people in the exercise, the subjects also engaged computers.
They found that people affected by COVID-19 showed the same altruism toward computers and human partners. As the participants were increasingly distracted with coronavirus concerns, they became more compassionate toward machines.
Rapid production of a COVID-19 vaccine also likely led to increases in trust toward science and technology, a change from scaremongering about 5G cell phones and vaccines that had been occurring due to activists a year earlier.
The study findings are consistent with previous research that shows disasters often bring out compassion in people who feel compelled to help. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people grew more dependent on machines to purchase products online, work remotely from home, take classes or gain manufactured personal protective equipment. The results indicate that it is possible to encourage goodwill toward machines in other ways, perhaps including machines that express emotions or cultural cues.
This also means nefarious programmers could design machines to look and sound more human to gain people's trust and then defraud them, but technology has always made bad behavior possible just as it makes most lives better.
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