The work of Debjyoti Ghosh and his co-author Isam Faik have paid off – ” Practical Empathy: The Duality of Social and Transactional Roles of Conversational Agents in Giving Health Advice” has been accepted by 2020 International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS). ICIS is a conference of the Association for Information Systems (AIS) which is the premier professional association for individuals and organizations who lead the research, teaching, practice, and study of information systems worldwide.
Conversational agents (CAs) are getting increasingly popular for dispensing health advice to both patients and general users. However, the literature on CAs presents a tension between the users’ conceptualization of agent-based conversations in transactional terms and the need for social elements like empathy and rapport-building in the health context. Using the Affective Response Model as a theoretical lens, we explore the social-transactional tension in user expectations of agent responses, based on a qualitative study with 8 participants. We found that a combination of social and transactional elements in agent responses is needed for the participants to feel understood. Furthermore, these two elements are mutually reinforcing reflecting a duality in the role of CAs as health advice agents. The duality is conceptualized through our theorization of Practical Empathy which defines four elements: consistency, progressivity, adaptability, and proactivity — as requirements for CAs to fulfill the expectation of the social-transactional duality.