ABUSE AND MISUSE OF SOCIAL AGENTS
Special Issue of Interacting with Computers
:: Introduction ::
For decades, science fiction writers have envisioned a world
in which robots and computers act like human assistants, virtual
companions, and artificial helpmates. Nowadays, for better or
for worse, that vision is becoming reality. A number of
human-like interfaces and machines are under development in
research centers around the world, and several prototypes have
already been deployed on the Internet and in businesses. Even in
our homes, service robots, such as vacuum cleaners and lawn
movers, are becoming increasingly common. These creatures are
the first-generation social agents: machines designed to build
relationships with users while performing tasks with some degree
of autonomy. Social agents display a range of human-like
behaviors: they communicate using natural language, gesture,
display and recognize emotions, and are even designed to mirror
our facial expressions and show empathy.
Until recently, scientific investigations into the psychological
aspects of human relationships with social agents have mainly
addressed the positive effects of this relationship, such as an
increase in trust and task facilitation (e.g., Bickmore &
Picard, 2005). Nevertheless, as the interaction bandwidth
evolves to encompass a broader range of social and emotional
expressiveness, there is the possibility of the user and social
agent displaying anti-social, hostile, and disinhibited
behaviors. Workshops held at Interact2005 and CHI2006 (De Angeli,
Brahnam, & Wallis, 2005; De Angeli, Brahnam, Wallis, & Dix,
2006) have suggested that anthropomorphic metaphors can
inadvertently rouse the user to display dissatisfaction through
angry interactions, sexual harassment, and volleys of verbal
At first glance, verbally or even physically abusing social
agents and service robots may not appear to pose much of a
problem—nothing that could be accurately labelled abuse since
computers and machines are not people and thus not capable of
being harmed. Nevertheless, the fact that abuse, or the threat
of it, is part of the interaction opens important moral,
ethical, and design issues. As machines begin to look and behave
more like people, it is important to ask how they should behave
when threatened and verbally and physically attacked. Another
concern is the potential that socially intelligent agents have
of taking advantage of users, especially children, who are prone
to attribute to these characters more warmth and human qualities
then they actually posses. Many parents, for instance, are
disturbed by the amount of information social agents are able to
obtain in their interactions with children. It is feared that
these relationship-building agents could be used as potent means
of marketing and advertising.
For this special issue of Interacting with Computers, we are
soliciting papers from a range of disciplines (psychology, HCI,
robotics, and cultural studies) that address the negative side
of human-computer interaction.
:: Topics ::
Papers on all aspects of the topic are welcome, but we are
particularly interested in papers that address the following
* How does the misuse and abuse of social agents affect the
user’s computing experience?
* How does disinhibition with social agents differ from Internet
* What are the psychological, sociological, and technological
factors involved in negative interactions between users and
* What design factors (e.g., embodiment, communication styles,
functionality) trigger or restrain disinhibited behaviours?
* What are the social and psychological consequences of negative
* How can we develop machines that learn to avoid user abuses?
* How can agent technology be exploited to take advantage of
users and what ethical and design mechanisms can counteract this
* Is it appropriate for machines to ignore aggression? If
conversational agents do not acknowledge verbal abuse will this
only serve to aggravate the situation?
* If potential clients are abusing virtual business
representatives, then to what extent are they abusing the
businesses or the social groups the human-like interfaces
:: Guest Editors ::
Antonella De Angeli (University of Manchester), UK
Sheryl Brahnam (Missouri State University), US
:: Submissions ::
Contributions should not exceed 10,000 words and should
IwC Guideliness for Authors.
Authors intending to submit a paper should send an Abstract to
the contact person below).
All papers submitted will be double blind, peer reviewed.
:: Important Dates ::
March 20th: Abstract Submission
April 5, 2007: Paper Submission
May 25: Notification of acceptance
June 15: Camera ready
Contact: Sheryl Brahnam sbrahnam: (*) facescience (*) org
(replace * with appropriate email symbols).