While doing some research for my current work on AI and Chatbots, I was struck by how much some people are trying to use bots to fool people into thinking they are really humans. This seems to be a problematic road to go down, as we know that people are not necessarily against interacting with non-human agents (like those of us that prefer to get basic information like bank account balances over the phone from a machine rather than bother a human). At the core, I think these efforts are really aimed at humanizing those tools, which is not a bad aim. I just don’t think we should ever get away from openness about who or what we are having learners interact with.
I was reminded about Second Life (remember that?) and how we used to question how some people would build traditional structures like rooms and stairs in spaces where your avatars could fly. At the time it was the “cool, hip” way to mock the people that you didn’t think “understood” Second Life. However, I am wondering if maybe there was something to this approach that we missed?
Concepts like social presence and immediacy have fallen out of the limelight in education, but they still have immense value (and many people still promote them thankfully). We need something in our educational efforts, whether in classrooms or at a distance online, that connects us to other learners in ways that we can feel, sense, connect with, etc. What if one way of doing that is by creating human-based structures in our virtual/digital interactions?
I’m not saying to ditch anything experimental and just recreate traditional classroom simulations in virtual reality, or re-enact standard educational interactions with chat bots. But what if incorporating some of those elements could help bring about more of a human element?
To be honest, I am not sure where the right “balance” of these two concepts would be. If I enter a virtual reality space that is just like a building in real life, I will probably miss out on the affordances of exploration that virtual reality could bring to the table. But if I walk into some wild trippy learning space that looks like a foreign planet to me, I will have to spend more time figuring out the way things work than actually learning about the topic I am interested in. I would also feel a bit out of contact with humanity of there is little to tie me back to what I am used to in real life.
The same could be said about the interactions we are designing for AI and chatbots. On one hand, we don’t need to mimic the status quo in the physical world just because it is what we have always done. But we also don’t need to do things that are way out there just because we can, either. Somewhere there is probably a happy medium of humanizing these technologies enough for us to connect with them (without trying to trick people into thinking they are humans) while still not replicating everything we already know just because that is what we know. I know some Social Presence Theory people would balk at the idea of those ideas being applied to technology, but I am thinking more of how we can use those concepts to inform our designs – just in a more meta fashion. Something to mull over for now.
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.