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Manners and the Machine: Do We Need to Be Polite to AI?


Many of us interact with artificial intelligence (AI) as much or more than we do with people in real life. We use voice assistants like Siri and Alexa, chatbots when online shopping, or image recognition apps. However, we need to consider the etiquette of using AI and how it can improve our relationships with this new technology. Should we use polite language such as "please" and "thank you" when communicating with AI?  


As with so many issues surrounding AI, there is some debate about whether we should bother being polite to AI. Some argue that since it's just a tool, there's no need for pleasantries. They worry that showing courtesy to technology blurs the line between humans and machines even further. While I understand their concerns, I believe that the risks of disregarding common courtesies are far greater.


Even if AI gives you the creeps, it's still important to show respect to people and things, even when we're not sure why. It can make us better from the outside in and keep our in-person conversation skills on point. Need another reason? Recent research shows that impolite prompts could worsen AI performance while using polite language can lead to better results. Fancy that! It seems that even machines respond more positively when others are kind.


Ways polite people can use AI writing tools to improve communication and interactions:


  1. Check the tone of your messages.

  2. Improve your grammar and spelling.

  3. Get help generating content when you're at a loss for words.


AI vs Etiquette Experts

But here's the real test: Can AI answer etiquette dilemmas better than etiquette experts? I took three classic etiquette questions and asked ChatGPT for input.


First, should I drink tea with my pinky out?

ChatGPT's response: "Ah, the age-old question of pinkies and tea! While it's often depicted in movies or old etiquette books, the truth is, it's not really necessary nowadays. The "pinkies out" gesture was historically associated with the upper class, symbolizing refinement and elegance. However, in modern times, it's seen as more of a stereotype or an outdated practice."

Great job, AI, this is spot on!


Next up, another popular question "What fork should I use?"

ChatGPT's response: "When faced with multiple forks at a place setting, it's common to wonder which one to use first! Here's a simple guideline to help you navigate: Work from the outside in. Start with the outermost fork and work your way in as the meal progresses. This means that if you have multiple forks, the one farthest from the plate is typically for the first course, and the closer ones are for subsequent courses…"


This answer started strong, but as it went on there was some confusion about appetizer and fish forks. I'm going to cut AI some slack here because that happens in real life, too.


Last question, is it okay to regift a present?

ChatGPT's response: "Regifting can be a touchy subject, but when done thoughtfully and tactfully, it can be perfectly acceptable..."


The answer was much lengthier than I will include here. AI did a pretty good job on this one, but it did leave out some of the nuances that only a human could give regarding exactly how to regift in a way that will not hurt anyone's feelings.


The results of my very unscientific study are in, and there's great news for etiquette experts and enthusiasts. It seems that AI cannot replace us entirely, at least not yet. It appears that those very human interactions are still best taught by us humans. However, it's good to know that AI can provide modern etiquette advice in the same spirit that most of us do.


What should we keep an eye out for when using AI?


· Accuracy: always double-check

· AI images should be clearly labeled

· Relying on AI more than humans


Another point to keep in mind is to use AI honestly. When it comes to etiquette, there are three principles to follow - consideration, respect, and honesty. It's honesty that can be tricky when it comes to using AI. If the text generated by AI seems incorrect or doesn't match people's expectations, it can lead to mistrust. When you use AI, consider disclosing it to the receiver. Done well, AI can increase people's trust in you and your communications.


My advice

Go ahead, polite people. Add "please" and "thank you" when interacting with AI, just as you would in face-to-face conversations. Not only does this model good manners for the people around you, but it's also a surefire way to improve your AI chat experience. It might not necessarily alter the responses you get, but it could certainly make the exchange more pleasant.


Full Disclosure

I use AI for almost all of my texts, posts, emails, and blogs like this one. I go through an AI app to check for grammar and punctuation errors and to suggest improvements for my writing; I take them about half of the time. Have I made mistakes? Absolutely! However, I have encountered some challenges. We are all learning, and technology can be tricky.


AI Tip

My favorite AI app is Grammarly, and my favorite prompt is "proofread only," it helps me clean up my final drafts, that way when I write, I still sound like me (for better or worse) while still making it easier for you to read.

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