Robots Don't Need To Be Humanoid

A new paper looks at human-robot interactions and concludes that a robot does not need to be a true ‘humanoid’ to be accepted by people, so long as its signals are designed correctly.


(Beyond R2-D2. The Design of nonverbal interaction behavior optimized for robot-specific morphologies)

A human being will only be capable of communicating with robots if this robot has many human characteristics. That is the common idea. But mimicking natural movements and expressions is complicated, and some of our nonverbal communication is not really suitable for robots: wide arm gestures, for example. Humans prove to be capable of responding in a social way, even to machines that look like machines. We have a natural tendency of translating machine movements and signals to the human world.

There is an interesting discussion of this same question in Anthony Boucher's 1943 story Q.U.R. In this terrific story, every robot is fully humanoid in appearance. In response to shortages in resources, a different kind of robot is proposed: the usuform robot, designed along strictly functional lines.

"Almost every robot, except perhaps a few like farmhands, does only one or two things and does those things constantly. All right. Shape them so that they can best do just those things, with no parts left over. give them a brain, eyes and ears to receive commands, and whatever [sensory] organs they need to do their work...

That's the source of your whole robot epidemic. They were all burdened down with things they didn't need...

"But this can't be done overnight. People are used to android robots... They'll be scared of your unhuman-looking contraptions... Give'em a name. A good name... Keep 'robots' thats common domain... I've got it. Usuform. Quinby's Usuform Robots. Q.U.R."
(Read more about Boucher's usuform robots)

It's interesting to note that in 1943, Boucher was already thinking about how the shape of a robot would affect how people interacted with it.

Via Neuroscience News.

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