We Still Empathize with Robots

More than a decade ago, an experiment found that people will empathize with robots, especially if the robots are designed with this in mind. Human subjects who had finished a task with a robot that looked a lot like a cat were about to turn off the robot. They were surprised to her the robot say, “You don’t have to turn me off.” The robot went on to plead for its life, and the subjects argued with the  robot, apologized, and generally had a hard time switching off the machine.

A new study finds that people still have trouble turning off robots. This study has a larger number of subjects than the 2007 study, and it checked on some additional variables. Using a humanoid robot named Nao, researchers had half of the robots pleas with the human subjects not to turn them off.

Those human subjects took longer to turn off the robots, and more than a third of them didn’t turn the robot off at all.

The most common reason expressed for failing to turn off the robot?

It didn’t want to be turned off.

Nao told subjects not just that it didn’t want to be turned off, but that it was afraid if would be left in the dark.

Nao is made by the same company that makes Pepper, a highly successful humanoid robot that works in stores, hotels, and other settings requiring interaction with humans. Nao is by design an appealing little robot.

The researchers didn’t leave it at that, however. They programmed one group of the robots to demonstrate social skills. These robots told jokes, expressed opinions, and otherwise behaved in a more human fashion than the others. Subjects didn’t have more empathy for these robots than for the others, though.

This might be because the social skills weren’t close enough to human skills to make people like the chattier Naos better. But it could also be because we don’t need social behavior to empathize. People already behave empathetically toward their cars, phones, and computers.

It’s something to keep in mind as we continue to work on collaborative robots. This information might help us make the most effective kinds of robots.

We’ll still need motion control systems for these robots. If you need support with your Rexroth electric industrial motion control, call us first.

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