DIGITAL assistants such as Siri and Cortana are increasingly common on phones and computers. Most are designed to give their users the impression that a humanlike intelligence lies behind the program’s friendly voice. It does not, of course. But dozens of experiments over the years have shown that people readily build strong bonds with computerised helpers which are endowed with anthropomorphic features, whether visual or vocal.
Developing an emotional relationship with a piece of software can, however, cut both ways. As a study published in Psychological Science by Park Daeun, of Chungbuk National University in South Korea, and her colleagues, shows, one emotion sometimes involved in machine-human interaction is embarrassment. This, Dr Park has discovered, makes some users reluctant to ask for help from their artificially intelligent pals. Apparently, they are sheepish about doing so.