Behavioural evidence for a transparency–efficiency tradeoff in human–machine cooperation

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Recent advances in artificial intelligence and deep learning have made it possible for bots to pass as humans, as is the case with the recent Google Duplex—an automated voice assistant capable of generating realistic speech that can fool humans into thinking they are talking to another human. Such technologies have drawn sharp criticism due to their ethical implications, and have fueled a push towards transparency in human–machine interactions. Despite the legitimacy of these concerns, it remains unclear whether bots would compromise their efficiency by disclosing their true nature. Here, we conduct a behavioural experiment with participants playing a repeated prisoner’s dilemma game with a human or a bot, after being given either true or false information about the nature of their associate. We find that bots do better than humans at inducing cooperation, but that disclosing their true nature negates this superior efficiency. Human participants do not recover from their prior bias against bots despite experiencing cooperative attitudes exhibited by bots over time. These results highlight the need to set standards for the efficiency cost we are willing to pay in order for machines to be transparent about their non-human nature.

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Fig. 1: Prejudice against purported bots early in the game.
Fig. 2: The tradeoff between efficiency and transparency.
Fig. 3: Bots learn to expect less from humans, especially when they are transparent.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study have been deposited in the Open Science Framework (

Code availability

The software and all code used to generate the findings of this study have been deposited in the Open Science Framework (


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We thank E. Awad for his help running the experiments on MTurk. J.-F.B. acknowledges support from the ANR-Labex Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, the ANR-3IA Artificial and Natural Intelligence Toulouse Institute, and the grant ANR-17-EURE-0010 Investissements d’Avenir.

Author information

All authors conceived and designed the experiments. F.I.-O. and Z.S. conducted the experiments. F.I.-O. and J.-F.B. analysed the data and produced the figures and tables. F.I.-O., J.-F.B., J.C., I.R. and T.R. wrote the manuscript.

Correspondence to Iyad Rahwan or Talal Rahwan.

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Ishowo-Oloko, F., Bonnefon, J., Soroye, Z. et al. Behavioural evidence for a transparency–efficiency tradeoff in human–machine cooperation. Nat Mach Intell 1, 517–521 (2019) doi:10.1038/s42256-019-0113-5

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