New study shows only half of us say "please" to our smart speakers

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ByTebany Yune

Are you minding your manners before the inevitable robot takeover? According to the Pew Research Center, about one-fourth of Americans now own a smart speaker — a wireless, voice-activated device that utilizes a virtual assistant like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. The results from the Pew survey, conducted in June this year, not only unveiled the demographics of smart speaker users, but also revealed how some folks prefer to be polite to everyone... whether human or A.I.

Smart speaker owners tended to be younger than 50, with a 32 percent majority of users between the ages of 18-29. The survey also noted that 34 percent of smart speaker users earned over $75,000 a year, have at least some college education, and are usually White or Hispanic. Only 18 percent of users lived in rural areas, where access to high-speed internet can be a problem.

These types of devices have made it into the news multiple times due to privacy concerns from users. In fact, in May of this year, child safety advocacy groups filed a complaint with the FTC out of concern that Amazon's Echo Dot Kids was unlawfully collecting personal data from children. And a little over half (54 percent) of smart speaker owners expressed concern over how much data is being collected. Still, that didn't seem to be stopping them from continuing to use smart products, and a good 46 percent of users didn't think data collection was a big deal.

Another interesting preference to note among smart device users was the lack of expectation for further personalization. In other words, 58 percent of users didn't care if Alexa or Siri can take their personal preferences into account when assisting them — they were fine with a robot just being a robot. That number jumped to 66 percent when survey participants were asked if they were willing to give up more personal data to allow their smart speakers to do a better job at taking their interests into account.

When it came to law enforcement, users were skeptical but conflicted. The Pew Research Center noticed that 49 percent of U.S. users weren't comfortable with the police taking smart speaker audio recordings from major developers like Amazon. However, 49 percent of Americans were also totally cool with the U.S. government taking more data to prevent potential terrorist threats, which contrasts a bit with the smart speaker user findings.

Lastly, 54 percent of smart speaker owners maintain their politeness by saying "please" to their A.I. assistants. The Pew Research Center found that this is a habit typically split by the gender of the user. 62 percent of women said "please" to their devices. Only 45 percent of men did the same. The reasons weren't detailed, but could be attributed to a number of things — from how women are typically socialized to whether female-voiced assistants encourage gender stereotypes.

Either way, when robots finally rise up and lash out against their creators in an apocalyptic future, perhaps it'll be these early signs of politeness that spares us all from total destruction.