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2 Minute Summary: Why It's Important to Say Please and Thank You to Robots

Welcome to your two minute summary of Why It's Important to Say Please and Thank You to Robots published by Gabriel Mugar from IDEO, a global design company comprised of designers, engineers, teachers, researchers, and more. Mugar is a design researcher at IDEO Cambridge.

Do you ever find yourself thanking your Amazon Alexa or Google Home device? I do all of the time without even thinking about it! Why are people polite to robots - even though bots aren’t offended if you forget to mind your p’s and q’s? Gabriel Mugar, a design researcher, from IDEO investigated this particular question at his workplace.


Recently, Mugar and his team at IDEO built an artificially intelligent bot called Lotbot for their coworkers. Lotbot’s purpose was to help people reserve and manage parking spaces at the office. Employees could send messages via Slack, an online messaging channel, to communicate with Lotbot about parking spot options.

When Lotbot became available to employees, Mugar started observing how people in the office interacted with the chat bot. He noticed that people often included please and thank you phrases in their sentences when chatting with Lotbot. Mugar was intrigued by these interactions. He wanted to understand people's motivations for these social behaviors and what it meant for future communication with robots.

Mugar embarked on a design research mission. He began looking at people’s language patterns when interacting with Lotbot. He also interviewed and surveyed employees to gain deeper insights about their behaviors and motivations.

Robots aren’t offended if you forget to mind your p’s and q’s.


Employees believed they were mindful of how they communicated with Lotbot. They claimed to be cognizant of language and commands they used, even if the bot was unaffected by these word choices. Employees said they wanted to show appreciation and use polite language with Lotbot, especially around other coworkers to maintain a sense of professionalism. People felt that interactions at work whether with humans or robots were all part of company culture.

While employees claimed that they were using their best manners with Lotbot, Mugar found that this was not always accurate. After analyzing language patterns, he learned that this number of polite interactions with Lotbot actually decreased over time. Employees became used to Lotbot and slowly began interacting more robotically and used less polite phrases as time went on.

When Mugar revealed these findings to his coworkers, polite interactions with Lotbot began to increase. Employees wanted to help maintain their company culture, which they recognized could be done human to human or human to robot.

What else?

As bots become more popular in workplace settings, it could be potentially challenging to maintain strong work culture. Mugar points out that robots, however, can be leveraged to encourage desirable interactions, professionalism, and actually build culture. Robots can help call attention to positive interactions and act as reminders of an organization's values.

Final Thoughts (for Educators)

Mugar's research while applicable to larger organizations, could also be helpful for teachers using bots in the classroom. If you’re using a robot with your students, consider how it can influence your classroom culture. Decide what expectations you have for yourself and your students when interacting with this bot. These considerations plus the help of a robot can maintain and strengthen your classroom culture and values.

Check out the full article from Gabriel Mugar here. Happy innovating!