People affected by COVID-19 show more goodwill to computers, scientists say

During COVID-19, people started using technology more than ever before, buying products online, working from home, and attending school online. As a result, they showed the same kindness to their gadgets as they would show to people.

People affected by COVID-19 show more kindness and altruism to people and human-like technology, U.S. scientists say. 

According to findings published in the

iScience journal

, researchers from the University of Southern California,

George Mason University and the U.S. Department of Defense conducted a “dictator game” to study how humans behave with machines.

Surprisingly, the findings showed that people impacted by COVID-19 showed the same altruism toward computers as they did to humans. 

“The new discovery here is that when people are distracted by something distressing, they treat machines socially like they would treat other people,” said a senior author of the study, Jonathan Gratch, according to

USC News

. Gratch is also a research professor of computer science at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies.

“We found greater faith in technology due to the pandemic and a closing of the gap between humans and machines.” 

The researchers chose individuals who had been negatively impacted by COVID-19, measured their stress levels, and then engaged them in the game. The subjects also interacted with computers.

The game has two participants, who play the roles of a sender and a receiver. The sender gets an initial grant, which in the experiment was 12 lottery tickets, worth US$30. The sender decides how many tickets to give to the receiver, who has to accept what is offered. 

The study compared what participants offered to humans and to computers. The results showed that people affected by COVID-19 made the same offers to both computers and to humans.

“Our findings show that as people interacted more via machines during the past year, perceptions about the value of technology increased, which led to more favourable responses to machines,” Gratch told USC News.

The scientists also pointed out that, generally, people mostly forgo social norms of human interaction, treating their gadgets differently. This behaviour persists even when machines become more human, such as Alexa, a virtual assistant they can talk to. Researchers explain that people’s default behaviour is often determined by heuristic thinking, a mental ability that people use to solve problems and make instant judgments in their daily interactions. 

Also, the fact that the scientists developed the COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year may have re-established our confidence in technology and can affect the way people deal with it in general, Gratch explained to USC News. 

The study results correspond to previous research that indicated that tragedies often reveal compassion in people. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, people became more dependent on technology, having to buy products online, work from home and attend school online. 

The results show that it is possible to promote friendliness to machines in different ways, and to potentially develop machines that display emotions or cultural cues.

On the other hand, the study raises concerns about people’s dependence on technology, noting that it could potentially allow


programmers to commit fraud by building machines that look and sound like humans to make people trust them.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques