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Explicating Cues: A Typology for Understanding Emerging Media Technologies

People use cues every day, like social cues or nonverbal cues, to communicate. But how are these cues — relative to Siri, Alexa, social robots, or the myriad hybrid computer and artificial intelligence technologies — being developed? How would a self-driving car, for example, understand sarcasm and do they have a sense of humor?

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Telecommunication Assistant Professor in Emerging Media Kun Xu explored the ways in which scholars are interpreting cues when they analyze innovations that use human-computer interaction (HCI) and human-machine communication (HMC).

For example, when texting, people observe and interpret cues such as how long before a response occurs, pauses in typing, and language style. Each of these cues needs to be categorized so that technologists can determine and academics study which cues would best facilitate communication between humans and computers.

Research on the growing ubiquity and sophistication of chatbots is one example for the necessity of integrating different perspectives of cues. Chatbots may be assigned different avatars, gender, or personality traits. Researchers interested in how users develop interpersonal relationships with chatbots can examine how users form stereotyped impression of these chatbots based on designers’ assigned cues, including typos and capitalization.

As Xu explains, all too often we fall back on how humans exchange messages but advances in technology may make communicating with machines much more nuanced. Not to mention, individuals interpret cues differently, which can not only impact communication in general, but also how it is studied.

While computer-mediated communication (CMC) literature has tended to focus on how humans interact through computer technologies and how they rely on the cues available to them to develop, maintain, and end interpersonal relationships with others, HCI literature has mostly centered on how users interact with computer technologies, respond to them as social actors, and use cues to retrieve and evaluate online information.

Emerging technologies are blurring the boundaries between CMC and HCI and enable users to interact both with a digital social actor and through a computer system.

Xu believes future research should test how CMC needs evolve or how the method of communication should be adjusted depending on the environment, scenario, and the kind of communication taking place between actors. Computers use cues such as social signals, message elements, and social categories, which may or may not be relatable to humans. Clarifying existing concepts like cues helps to move forward within this exciting development phase.

The original article, Explicating Cues: A Typology for Understanding Emerging Media Technologies,” was originally published in the September 2019 issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. This was a special issue examining the state of the field.

This summary was written by Dana Hackley, Ph.D.

Posted: January 14, 2020
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