New Robot Threat - They Make You Love Them

Researchers have identified a new robot threat - our own feelings toward them.

H.R.I. researchers have discovered some rather surprising things: a robotís behavior can have a bigger impact on its relationship with humans than its design; many of the rules that govern human relationships apply equally well to human-robot relations; and people will read emotions and motivations into a robotís behavior that far exceed the robotís capabilities. As we employ those lessons to build robots that can be better caretakers, maids and emergency responders, we risk further blurring the (once unnecessary) line between tools and beings.

Provided with the right behavioral cues, humans will form relationships with just about anything ó regardless of what it looks like...

Elizabeth Croft, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia, has done a study in which humans and robotic arms pass objects back and forth ó a skill that would be important for a robot caregiver to get right. She has found that if a robot and a human reach for the same object simultaneously, and the robot never hesitates or varies its speed, people think the robot is being rude. When the robot makes little jerky motions and slows down, according to Croft, people actually describe this disembodied arm as considerate ó maybe even a little shy.

Science fiction writers have noted these issues. In particular, Philip K. Dick saw how attached people might get to robots. In his 1955 short story Nanny, little Bobby and Jean couldn't be more excited to play with their robot nanny:

"Come on!" Bobby shouted.

Abruptly Nanny moved, spinning slightly as her treads gripped the floor and turned her around. One of her side doors opened. A long metal rod shot out. Playfully, Nanny caught Bobby's arm with her grapple and drew him to her. She perched him on her back. Bobby's legs straddled the metal hull. He kicked with his heels excitedly, jumping up and down.

"Race you around the block!" Jean shouted.

And in his chilling Cold War tale Second Variety, robots that imitated lost little boys were the scariest of all.

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