Beyond the tool vs. teammate debate: Exploring the sidekick metaphor in human-AI dyads

Open Access
Conference Proceedings
Authors: Sylvain BruniMary FreimanKenyon Riddle

Abstract: From symbiosis to copilot, a wide range of metaphors have been employed to characterize cooperative and collaborative relationships between human and non-human agents (be they software, robots, algorithms, or automated agents of any kind) in support of designing such advanced technologies. Recently, the emergence and rapid commoditization of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms have driven a highly bimodal debate on what metaphor is best to account for AI’s and ML’s new capabilities, particularly when those closely mimic humans’: Is AI a tool or a teammate for humans using the technology? This debate, however, occludes critical elements necessary to practitioners in the fields of human system design. To move past the “tool vs. teammate debate,” we propose an orthogonal metaphor, that of a sidekick, inspired by popular and literary culture, which can both accomplish and facilitate work (i.e., they do, and they help do). The sidekick metaphor was applied to a variety of efforts where it yielded novel design considerations which would have otherwise been unattainable by previous approaches. In this contribution, we report on the debate, describe the sidekick metaphor, and exemplify its application to real-world use cases, in domains such as intelligence analysis, aircraft maintenance, and missile defense.

Keywords: human, machine teaming, system design, design metaphor, AI assistant, digital assistant

DOI: 10.54941/ahfe1003558

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