Software and the Volitional Bias

Software often is designed in a way that treats the computer as a machine, while people increasingly are expecting, in fact are encouraged to expect, that their computers will act like volitional agents that are trying to help. With a machine, for example, if you are recording a quiet conversation, you want the amplifier to have a high gain, so you would set the input volume to “high”. With an assistant who is trying to record your voice clearly, you might tell him/her that the input volume will be “low”, relying on the fact that the computer “wants” to record the conversation and thus will decide, on its own, to increase the gain. This is a source of genuine confusion for many people: we are prone, as an explanatory style, to assign volition to things that have none. Hence, god(s).

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