Placebo effect also works with technology


Editorial of the Diário da Sade

Technological placebo effect

People can become anxious and make risky decisions when they believe technology is enhancing their skills.
[Imagem: Feodora Chiosea]

technological placebo

A few days ago, researchers from Norway verified that the placebo effect also works in physical training.

Now, a team from Finland has proven how the placebo effect kicks in when people expect their personal performance to be enhanced by technologies like artificial intelligence (AI).

But Steeven Villa and colleagues at Aalto University have found that gains made from belief in technology can also have side effects.

Volunteers who had higher expectations for these technologies would engage in riskier decision-making, which can be a problem as people have adopted these technologies without understanding their benefits and limitations.

“Individuals are more likely to take risks when they believe they are enhanced by cutting-edge technologies such as AI or brain-computer interfaces,” said team member Robin Welsch. “This is even if no actual enhancement technology is present, indicating that this is people’s expectations rather than any perceivable improvement. The findings also indicate that a strong belief in enhancement, based on a false system, can alter outlet of decisions.”

Technological placebo effect

The technology offered no benefits, but participants believed it did, which made them take more risks.
[Imagem: Robin Welsch/Aalto University]

Placebo effect of technology

Enhancing, or enhancing, technologies that increase our physical, cognitive, or sensory performance have become commonplace. Some are so widely used that they have become invisible – spell checking, for example – and new technologies are emerging that promise to push our abilities beyond human limits, such as exoskeletons and AI-powered vision enhancement.

But the hype around these technologies also creates expectations, which can lead people to change their behavior.

In the experiment, participants gain or lose points by turning over cards with hidden values. The 27 participants were led to believe that an AI-controlled brain-computer interface, the placebo, would improve their cognitive abilities by using binaural sons to track the cards that imposed losses on them.

But the game was rigged – the interface provided no real benefit and participants almost never encountered a losing card. Still, most respondents felt that technology helped them do better, and it made them take on more responsibility. These results show how fake cognitive enhancements can have real effects on decision-making.

“The AI-aspired technologies that enhance users in increasingly common ways and play a role in real-life decisions that have made people’s lives, well-being, trust and safety better,” said Professor Thomas Kosch, from the University of Berlin. “To ensure the effectiveness of new technologies beyond the fad, placebo-controlled studies are needed for accurate evaluation and validation to differentiate snake oil [uma substncia sem valor medicinal] of real innovation.”

Check with scientific article:

Article: The placebo effect of human augmentation: anticipating cognitive augmentation increases risky behavior
Authors: Steeven Villa, Thomas Kosch, Felix Grelka, Albrecht Schmidt, Robin Welsch
Publication: Computers in Human Behavior
DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2023.107787

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