IUI 2023
Conference paper

Follow the Successful Herd: Towards Explanations for Improved Use and Mental Models of Natural Language Systems

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While natural language systems continue improving, they are still imperfect. If a user has a better understanding of how a system works, they may be able to better accomplish their goals even in imperfect systems. We explored whether explanations can support effective authoring of natural language utterances and how those explanations impact users' mental models in the context of a natural language system that generates small programs. Through an online study (n=252), we compared two main types of explanations: 1) system-focused, which provide information about how the system processes utterances and matches terms to a knowledge base, and 2) social, which provide information about how other users have successfully interacted with the system. Our results indicate that providing social suggestions of terms to add to an utterance helped users to repair and generate correct flows more than system-focused explanations or social recommendations of words to modify. We also found that participants commonly understood some mechanisms of the natural language system, such as the matching of terms to a knowledge base, but they often lacked other critical knowledge, such as how the system handled structuring and ordering. Based on these findings, we make design recommendations for supporting interactions with and understanding of natural language systems.