Fictional stories abound where artificial intelligence gives rise to man-made servants that make our lives a holiday (or a nightmare). Naturally, the optimist has a strong motive to ask: How might we design and implement an artificial servant? We regularly operate under the notion that one agent helps another by doing something for the other. However, the story behind this is much more complicated. In this position paper, we explore two questions: What is the nature of service that is helpful or “good”? and What will it take to design and implement agents that provide “good” service? We start by describing our current understanding of the nature of service, consisting of a number of dimensions along which service may be measured and compared, and three modes in which service may be delivered. With these dimensions and modes setting the stage, we consider the technical and social requirements for implementing artificial servants. We find that while many prerequisites are either already available or could reasonably be developed from the current state of the art, both technical and social challenges remain that are expected to be very difficult to overcome. Our experimental work attempts to generate and evaluate the fundamental elements of helpful assistance, and we provide a brief overview of our work. One surprising empirical result reminds us of a common understanding about help: providing assistance is a two-way street. Developing that two-way street may prove to be one of the most significant obstacles to realizing an artificial personal servant.
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