We Need More Stern Robots In Our Lives.

There was a recent article on an experiment in The New Scientist which explored human/robot interaction.

They took three rooms of people and put a friendly robot in one room that hung out with them and was very funny and friendly and really helpful to the people in the room. They took another room and they put in a stern robot, a not so friendly robot, a serious robot. Then in the third room, they put no robot at all. They acted friendly or stern prior to the test, once the test started they just sat in the corner and didn’t say anything.

They then asked the folks in the room to perform the Stroop Test.

You’ve probably seen this from before I’ve seen on some brain games. They show a series of words which are colored differently from the word itself.

For example, the word “red” shows up in the color black or the word “green” shows up in the color yellow. The test is to identify the color even though the word describes a different color. It’s a test that’s used in psychology to test cognitive abilities.

Unsurprisingly (to me at least) the people in the no robot room didn’t do very well. The people in the friendly robot room didn’t do very well either. However, the people in the stern robot room did much better.

A stern robot overlooking your work made people more conscientious. It made people think more, put them under a little bit of pressure even though it just sort of sat in the corner watching and didn’t say anything. In the room where the stern robot was people were more productive. They tried harder and did a better job. The presence of the stern robot as opposed to a friendly robot made all the difference.

Is this is really a surprise? If you think about it, it’s the same way with humans. Put a friendly human in the room with you and put a stern human in the room with you standing over you with their arms folded, possibly even tapping a foot, will probably make you think a little harder or want to try a little harder on a test.

Think about the ultimate extension of that: drill sergeants or fitness coaches. If you really want to see a change in your life you need someone to push you, coach you, move you out of the space that you’re in.

The friendly coach doesn’t push you as hard as the stern coach. In the same way, a stern robot can push people in the same way a stern person would if you want to change you need some third party to push you in a stern way, whether it’s a human or a robot.

This is how we are wired: if a coach is not friendly then humans will be more productive and they’ll try harder.

Sure, you’ve heard that “You attract act more flies with honey” but the reality is that with certain things especially when you are trying to push human change your organizational change, it’s much more effective not to be nice. It’s much better to be the guy standing in the corner with his arms folded tapping his foot. When you have that in the room then people will try harder. People will change.

If stern robots can do this just as well as stern humans, isn’t it possible that we should be looking at an entirely new set of apps and software and virtual assistants that are stern to help push people in the way they wish to change?

IMHO, virtual assistants are way too nice to us. Alexa doesn’t talk to me unless I ask, same with Google Home, same with almost every virtual assistant out there. They wait for you to start the conversation, not only do you have to start it, they’re very complacent.

If you ask me we need to step away from that — we need to get to a point where the virtual assistant is more like a truly virtual human assistant and proactively does things, proactively pushes you to do things, proactively tells you to do things and not just funny little ignorable notifications saying “hey your meetings coming up.”

They have to be more human.

The most effective executive assistants have to be pushy to their bosses in order to get them to get stuff done. The best ones are stern and proactive.

If we really want our virtual assistants to help us, guide us, help us change our lives, help us do better and help us be better humans (I mean isn’t that what we want) then we definitely need tougher virtual assistants, more stern robots in our life.


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