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Man and machine: Humans relate to robots, study finds

Man and machine: Humans relate to robots, study finds


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SALT LAKE CITY — When robotic machines function properly — and especially if they exhibit the human trait of agreeableness — humans may relate to them.

A study out of University of Canterbury in New Zealand found that when a robot exhibits human behavior, a user could feel a kind of reciprocity between themselves and the machine.

Christoph Bartneck, a robotics professor, and his team used the robotic iCat to test their hypothesis. The yellow cat makes facial expressions and speaks. The robot had four conditions programmed for the study: Smart and stupid, agreeable and disagreeable.

To help participants "get to know" their robot, researchers teamed a robot and a human together to find the right combinations of colors on the Masterminds software on a laptop. iCat would switch between the conditions throughout the game.

Once the game ended, participants were directed to switch off the robot. They were informed that by turning the on/off dial, they would erase all of its memory and personality forever.

When the threat of being turned off came, the robot would beg the participant to not follow the instructions. "He can't be true, switch me off? You are not going to switch me off are you?"

If they began to turn the dial, the robot's speech slowed down. The further they turned the switch toward off, the slower the robot spoke. Researchers recorded the time between the instruction and the participants turning the cat off.

When the robot was intelligent, participants had a more difficult time turning the knob, especially if it was also agreeable, Bartneck said. Participants hesitated turning the switch almost three times as long when the robot was agreeable and intelligent than when it was unintelligent and disagreeable.

It appeared they hesitated if turning the switch would have a negative consequence for the robot they liked.

"Hesitation was significantly influenced by both, intelligenceRobot and agreeableness. The hesitation to switch off the agreeable robot was more than double compared to the non agreeable-robot in the smart condition"

They concluded:

"This does confirm the Media Equation's prediction that the social rule of Manus Manum Lavet (One hand washes the other) does not only apply to computers, but also to robots. However, our results do not only confirm this rule, but also it suggests that intelligent robots are perceived to be more alive. "

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Celeste Tholen Rosenlof

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