Alexa, Compliment Me: Recognition from Robots

Amazon Echo made headlines this month as the speakers received prominent product placement in Whole Foods, following Amazon’s acquisition of the popular natural grocer. For anyone unfamiliar with Echo, it is a smart speaker line powered by Alexa, Amazon’s voice control system. Ask Alexa and you shall receive information and basic actions resulting from pre-programmed commands.

Some of those commands operate as “skills” — plugins that let you customize your own voice-powered ecosystem. It’s part of a technological revolution of ‘smart,’ fully-connected environments where devices communicate with one another to automate basic functions like turning lights on or off, playing music, or even motivating behaviors and reinforcing self-esteem.

“Alexa knows what to say to brighten your day.”

This statement from Amazon marketing Alexa’s capabilities sounds like Alexa might have insight, empathy, and active listening “skills.” Skills plugins are available from numerous developers, like apps. Here’s how some developers are marketing their new “compliment me” Alexa skills:

  • “This skill will enable Alexa to compliment you, whether or not you actually deserve one.”
  • “Do you need someone to tell you that you’re an amazing person? Have Alexa validate you!”

For good measure, we asked Alexa to compliment us and this is the response we received: “Actions speak louder than words, and yours tell an incredible story.”

This new feature may go beyond Apple’s capabilities for Siri — who responds to these requests with slightly less reassuring answers:

  • Q: “Compliment me” Siri: That may be beyond my abilities at the moment
  • Q: “Siri am I smart?” Siri: I couldn’t say

That does not bode well for 71 percent of U.S. workers who may be looking for a pick-me-up. In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported only 29 percent of employees feel valued in their jobs. Will employees feeling rebuffed and unappreciated resort to programs like Alexa to validate them in the future? And if so, will Alexa be enough?

When you receive a compliment you’ve had to ask — or fish — for, how does it compare with an unsolicited recognition of your best attributes or contributions?

People are hungry for affirmation they are not receiving (statistically) from work. They may turn to Alexa to find it, or they may turn to a competitor with better pay, better benefits, and a more rewarding culture.

Compliments are not recognition. Recognition is an after-the-fact display of appreciation for a job well done. Recognition from robots at work will fall woefully short for two primary reasons:

  • It matters a great deal who gives the recognition. We attribute value to recognition based on the sender — appreciation from our peers, managers, leaders, and customers all take on different meanings for us based on our experiences.
  • Meaningful recognition is timely and personal. It is connected to behaviors, performance or results and ties that appreciation to the person’s specific accomplishments.

We all want to be seen for who we are and appreciated for what we do. Robots simply can’t do that … for now.

1 Comment

  • priya says:

    The system uses SLAM information to augment existing object-recognition algorithms. Its performance should thus continue to improve as computer-vision researchers develop better recognition software, and roboticists develop better SLAM software.

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