The Loh Down On Science

PC PCs

Scientists find we're far more likely to listen to computer help assistants if they talk to us nicely.

It's not what your computer says, it's HOW it says it!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh, with the Loh Down on Science

and with the latest in computer software etiquette.

Computer help assistants--like a floppy-eared dog--may be amusing, but do they do any GOOD? The answer depends on THEIR answer.

So say researchers from the University of Southern California and the University of California, Santa Barbara. They presented fifty-one students with an animated, talking robot to help them learn how to build a virtual factory.

With half of the students, the robo-mentor SUGGESTED solutions, like a team player: "How about we save the factory now?"

With the others, he made demands: "Save the factory now!"

Students instructed by the polite robots learned as much as FIFTY-SEVEN percent more than students paired with the more demanding version--even if they didn't particularly LIKE Mister Robo-Manners.

This proves that -- at least for computer tutors -- it doesn't matter if you're a bouncing paperclip or a hand-waving monitor. Use your inside voice, and we'll listen to what you have to say.

PCs going PC. Who woulda thunk it?


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