Artificial Interactions: The Ethics of Virtual Assistants

  • Author / Creator
    Guy, Julia Barbara Brandewyn
  • Using an online survey, this research explores public opinion related to ethical concerns and the portrayal of human-like characteristics by Virtual Assistants (VAs), such as Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa. This research is centered around two research questions: 1) What ethical concerns, if any, do people have about Virtual Assistants and their data collection practices?; and, 2) What can be determined by evaluating public opinion about if and how Virtual Assistants should perform human-like characteristics and behaviours? Results of the survey were summarized and analyzed using a descriptive statistics approach. Findings indicate that there are multiple issues with VA technologies that produce significant levels of concern for respondents. Concerns related to corporate manipulation, surveillance and lack of transparency, as well as concerns related to political manipulation or increased political polarization, were the issues where participants most frequently expressed high levels of concern. Responses related to the portrayal of human-like characteristics by VAs suggest that, in many ways, public opinion might align with the way these technologies are currently designed, particularly in terms of what personality traits VAs should portray. There were, however, several instances where respondent opinions sharply contrasted the ways that VAs are currently being designed, particularly when it comes to what gender VAs should portray, and how human-like these technologies should be.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2022
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts/Master of Library and Information Studies
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.