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March 2019

High-tech partnership explores human perceptions of chatbots

At a glance
The team

Kiite with researcher Julia McMenamin, supervised by Alex Benson and John Meyer, Western University Department of Psychology.

The challenge

People don’t yet trust artificial intelligence technologies such as chatbots

The solution

A qualitative study to better understand users’ trust-based behaviours

The outcome

A chatbot to support sales professionals in accessing tools and resources

What's next

Continued research on different elements of trust and artificial intelligence

Waterloo start-up, Kiite, wants to know if you would trust a robot. Specifically, how do your perceptions of artificial intelligence affect your interactions with a workplace chatbot? To answer this question, Kiite turned to researcher Julia McMenamin of the Department of Psychology at Western University.


“We wanted to understand what people’s reactions to a bot might be in different types of workplace situations,” says Julia. “Will people trust the system the same way they trust a person? What kinds of challenges or barriers might arise when implementing chatbots as a tool in the workplace?”

Supervised by Alex Benson and John Meyer, Julia conducted a qualitative study of the users of Kiite’s chatbot. They explored questions about users’ preconceived notions of chatbots, and the privacy and trust implications of using a chatbot for various applications. They sought to understand how people’s reactions and interactions with the bot may differ from that of a human.

The research ultimately informed Kiite’s flagship chatbot to support sales teams in accessing resources and tools for their jobs.

Donna Litt, co-founder of Kiite, saw the partnership as a unique experience for her team.

“AI is moving so fast —it can be too easy to make new technologies without a second thought,” she says. “Julia’s research gave us a different slice of the problem we’re trying to tackle, and the perspectives she uncovered mean that we’re developing our own technology more thoughtfully.”

The partnership also opened the possibility for new collaborations and further research with Western University’s psychology department as the technology evolves.

 “Mitacs was a great partner in putting this together,” continues Donna. “The way I see it, Mitacs is an organization that’s completely dedicated to helping us make the best product. From the support of our local business development representative, to the collaboration with Julia and her supervisors, we’ve found the whole experience to be very accessible.”

For Julia, the experience brought her to the cutting-edge of both psychology research and technology.

“We’re at an interesting time because AI is about to be so normal and yet, until recently it was science fiction. It’s been a great experience to have an inside view to this field, as well as what it’s like in a start-up environment like Kiite. I’m excited to dive deeper into this research and take on new projects with industry as I continue my studies.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Saskatchewan, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, and Research Manitoba.

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: