A Conceptual Framework for Researching Emergent Social Orderings in Encounters with Automated Computer-Telephone Interviewing Agents

By Nils Klowait.

Published by The International Journal of Communication and Linguistic Studies

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: February 21, 2017 $US5.00

The following study conceptualizes and evaluates a phone-based, natural-language-employing Automated Computer-Telephone Interviewing system. It will be argued that the conversational agent, by virtue of its technical limitations, is situated squarely within the interactional “uncanny valley,” precisely because it exhibits a rudimentary interactivity and can thereby mimic human agency. Its inability to be fully humanlike therefore becomes a peculiar interactive feature. The system is shown to take on the role of a highly restrictive interrogator rather than a regular interviewer, generating “institutional talk.” This is shown to be particularly true when users fail to recognize the system as nonhuman. The findings problematize the overall methodological robustness of state-of-the-art automated surveying agents, as such systems may unwittingly introduce response biases to a supposedly impersonal surveying method. Conceptually, the article will be grounded in Suchman’s “situated action” paradigm of human-computer interaction, as well as Heritage’s “institutional talk” within conversation analysis. This article will attempt to construct a theoretical scheme that will allow for a social study of the ACTI-based interaction. The findings are based on an analysis of 175 audio recordings of an automated survey on voting preferences during the 2013 Moscow Oblast gubernatorial elections.

Keywords: Human-Computer Interaction, Institutional Talk, Conversation Analysis, Uncanny Valley, Anthropomorphism

The International Journal of Communication and Linguistic Studies, Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2017, pp.19-37. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: February 21, 2017 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1004.771KB)).

Nils Klowait

Senior Research Fellow, International Center for Contemporary Social Theory, Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, Moscow, Russian Federation