Humanising algorithms by giving them a name

I subscribe to a number of technology magazines and futurology newsletters and what struck when reading about Einstein, the Salesforce cloud commerce artificial intelligence platform, is that most tech companies seem to want to humanise their algorithms by giving them a name. Other technology companies have Alexa, Echo, Siri, Watson, to name a few that straight away jumped into my mind.

For a parent picking a name is a meaningful and significant life event and I wonder by giving conceptual and harder to visualise  items like algorithms a name, does that then humanises the concept. Most people are a little bit suspicious about technology’s ability to predict events or even further replace us as humans in certain tasks. Is the very act of giving a name then a conscious choice to make it more acceptable as a member of the team or even the family.

I hear of children talking to Alexa at home as if it was a friend at school. Siri in my case doesn’t understand me very often, so my experience is more laughable than useful. But I guess the days of science-fi movies with robots performing some of our tasks is becoming ever closer to reality. Personally I would be very happy to adopt the robot called Pepper into our home, just for fun. Although on my priority wish list for home assistants is a hoover and grocery shopping bot.

Name giving is as old as most societies, we named objects to give them a sense of meaning and I guess algorithm didn’t give it enough meaning. The creators at companies may have the exact same feeling as a proud parent when their baby in this case an algorithm is launched, so name giving may just make it identifiably theirs. I also wonder though if this then lowers the barriers of acceptance of the technology. New technology acceptance is not widespread instantly, however some of the named AI assistants seem to have seamlessly entered households, albeit still for a very much early adopter audience.

In games, we are often asked to choose a game name, so we are recognisable to our opponents. Some people get creative others very much stick to their initials. Some of my gamer names are Chillyspice, Icicle and others. Picking the name is fun, the challenge of finding an original one that wasn’t taken a whole lot harder. It never created a sense of ownership for me to have a player name, that is more linked to identity. However products I have created and given a name or even this business, I would cherish a whole lot more. It is as if it creates a sense of attachment emotionally apart from the inherent sense of ownership as the creator.

Is allowing people to give projects, inventions, algorithms a name a way to create an emotional link so that they will take more care of the “baby”? I couldn’t actually find research about it to confirm or reject my wonder, but if you know of research findings where the connection of name giving and user acceptance are linked or examined, I would be interested to find out. It may just mean all gamification design projects from now on have identifiable one word names.

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