VERMILLION, S.D. -- As the future promises close relationships to virtual assistants such as Siri or Alexa, Travis Loof, Ph.D., assistant professor of media & journalism, researches how humans interact with this aspect of artificial intelligence.
“One part of my research looks at how we perceive artificial intelligence and whether we are willing to trust it, whether we find it credible and whether it would change our intentions to do a specific behavior,” Loof said.
To study whether individuals behaved differently when they thought they were being prompted by another human or by a virtual entity, Loof developed a video game that trained users in mindfulness techniques. While users reacted positively to prompts and directions from the virtual assistant in the game, his research also showed that humans had negative responses to artificial intelligence that was somewhat too helpful.
“Unhelpful artificial intelligence actually led to greater behavioral intentions,” said Loof. “It’s less patronizing.”
Another current study examines how humans interact with each other after communicating with artificial intelligence. Loof’s research examines how interacting with an artificial intelligence in one context could potentially influence an interpersonal interaction with an actual person.
“You are playing video games with artificial intelligence or talking to Siri or Alexa,” he said. “Depending on how that interaction goes, is that going to change how you talk to your significant other?”
As technology becomes more entwined in all aspects of daily life, Loof said we need to understand how humans respond to artificial intelligence.
“We need to understand, at a very fundamental level, how we are going to react and respond in order for there to be effective communication with these agents,” he said.
For example, a tornado warning from a meteorologist sitting behind a desk may elicit a different reaction than one issued from a computer program.
In all of his research projects, Loof said he prioritizes involving undergraduate and graduate students. Computer lab space in the Al Neuharth Media Center is available to students to assist in a faculty member’s research or develop their own project.
“In all of my classes I tell students the benefits of performing research,” said Loof, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications studies at USD and a doctorate from Texas Tech. “Even if they are not going into higher education, research teaches skills like critical thinking and analytical skills that employers are looking for.”