In human-machine communication, people interact with a communication partner that is of a different ontological nature from themselves. This study examines how people conceptualize ontological differences between humans and computers and the implications of these differences for human-machine communication. Findings based on data from qualitative interviews with 73 U.S. adults regarding disembodied artificial intelligence (AI) technologies (voice-based AI assistants, automated-writing software) show that people differentiate between humans and computers based on origin of being, degree of autonomy, status as tool/tool-user, level of intelligence, emotional capabilities, and inherent flaws. In addition, these ontological boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred as technologies emulate more human-like qualities, such as emotion. This study also demonstrates how people’s conceptualizations of the human-computer divide inform aspects of their interactions with communicative technologies.



Author ORCID Identifier

Andrea L. Guzman 0000-0002-6874-9435