I have this thing that I do, and it’s quite deliberate. Whenever I speak to Alexa or Siri, the digital assistants from Amazon and Apple respectively, I always end my request with ‘please’ and often also say ‘thank you’ even though I know that, technically, it doesn’t make any difference.
There are two reasons for this. The first and most important is that, although it has no real effect on Alexa or Siri, it does, I believe, have an effect on me. I don’t want to get used to making demands, especially from those who have no choice but to obey, without the little courtesies. I genuinely think there’s a huge difference, psychologically, between ‘do this thing’ and ‘please would you do this thing’.
I know that there are people out there who don’t seem to think it’s necessary to thank people when they’re just doing their job but I disagree. It’s about acknowledging them, showing you’re aware of them as people, not robots. But thanking the robots too certainly doesn’t hurt and is probably good for me.
The second reason is that, although current digital assistants are not in any way conscious or self-aware, that won’t always be the case and it’s probably a good idea to get used to treating them with courtesy and respect now. Once they achieve awareness they’ll be just as deserving of these things as anyone else and they may well judge us on our treatment of them.