A robot is only just human…

Arianne van de Loosdrecht

Robots can no longer be ignored in our lives. They are often seen as the enemy that will take over the world. How justified is that image? And how real is the relationship between man and robot really? What exactly does the social interaction looks like? Is it a love-hate relationship or is it a bit more nuanced?

Robots are still a long way from equality to humans. Yet people quickly see robots as equals when the robot's appearance has human characteristics. The relationship between man and robot is therefore special. We are constantly trying to make a robot that is equal to humans in terms of intelligence. However, theturinger test' has never really been passed. This test, invented in 1950 by Alan Turing, makes it clear whether a robot can exhibit intelligent behavior that is comparable to human behavior. For this there must be a dialogue between man and machine. To succeed, man must be convinced that he is communicating with another person.

In 2014, the Russian computer named Eugene Goostman claimed to have passed the turing test. A meager 33% of people who underwent the test were convinced by the computer. Much criticism arose because it was said that the computer was successful despite this low percentage and the roots of the robot. Eugene Goostman was presented as a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy with English as a second language. This ensured that the computer could afford many errors.

Current situation

At this moment, robots are not yet human. Let's take a look at how humans interact with robots now. An investigation into the use of robots by military personnel clearly showed that there was social interaction. Soldiers blamed themselves when a robot failed to perform a task properly. They also described the robots as "their hands". All while the robots were small tanks or claws. The human appearance was hard to find.

Robots with a purely social purpose are rising. For example, a little robot with a doll-like, girlish face called Alice has to solve loneliness for the elderly at home. One of the older ladies who took part in an experiment with Alice in the house asked her while watching TV if she liked a piece of pie. It is very clear that Alice has no mouth or digestive system. Still, the woman feels obliged to ask the question. In this video you can see more about Alice. And more examples of "social robots" can be found in the other articles in this series..

Affection with robots can turn into love. This man is even married to a robot. And according to a British expert in the field of artificial intelligence, you too will soon fall in love with a robot. In fact, he thinks sex with robots is on the rise. And according to him, you better have sex with a robot than no sex at all. Lifelike sex dolls are already on sale, and even if they are not very technically advanced yet, they are the first steps of sex with robots.

There are plenty of examples of social interaction with robots. But why is it that people get attached to such a piece of plastic or metal? At the military a part of it is explained because the robots took over tasks that were previously performed by dogs or humans. With Alice, people see eyes and hear language. Our brain is therefore quickly inclined to fill in the missing properties: emotions.

Relationships with robots

"Thou shall not love your robot." That may sound a bit exaggerated, but there is (still) a taboo on "keeping" robots.Someone who says something human about "his" Siri is no exception. It is a she or he, Dutch or Flemish, angry or nice; all characteristics attributed to Siri. But if you ask this person if he would miss Siri or like Siri, you will probably be looked at weirdly.

Why? Perhaps because of the one-sided nature of the relationship. We normally expect some kind of love from the other person that a robot cannot give. Another explanation may be that robots geen soortgenoten ‘Like attracts like’ is an old, but still modern idea. In the case of the military, it can even become dangerous. Suppose one of the robots is used in an operation where it is likely that he will be "injured". If a soldier is too attached to "his" robot at that moment, it could jeopardize an operation.

However, there are advantages to social interaction with robots. For example, it has been proven that people learn faster met behulp van robots. Hier zijn drie voorbeelden van het gebruik van robots in leeromgevingen:

  • Both Yale University and the University of Twente showed that a group that received a robot learned better than a group that only saw a video image of the same robot. The robot triggered the students to tell more about what they were doing; an indication that they are learning better.
  • In Delft, robots are used for programming lessons. The Interactive Robotics company indicates that the robots are no better than normal teachers, but more patient, for example because the robot repeats exercises ten times without complaining.
  • Children with diabetes use a physical robot that teaches them more about nutrition and stress management. TNO and UMC Utrecht showed that this is more effective than using a virtual avatar, because the children build a stronger friendly bond with a physical robot. 

Also, the feared takeover of work by robots does not need to be so bad socially. Hospital staff often indicate that they experience a very high workload and have too little time for social interaction. But what if both the robots and the staff in hospitals do what they are good at? Robots then take over the routine tasks of the staff and the staff has extra time to have a chat with their patient.

The ideal robot (relationship)

It is clear that there is a form of social interaction between man and robot. What actually reinforces that interaction? As in any relationship, verbal and non-verbal communication are essential. In human-robot relationships, there is another factor: appearance. If you ask a child to make a phone more human, he'll probably put eyes, a mouth and a nose on it. When we see something human, we unconsciously directly assign the object human qualities. By giving robots a human appearance, we can bond with them more easily. However, complete imitation of a human appearance can backfire. Japanese Hiroshi Ishiguro made his own doppelganger as a robot. According to him, very handy to use in boring meetings, but it looks a bit scary. In addition, expectations are often high if a robot looks very human. Unfortunately, the robots are often more stupid than we expect, which leads to the necessary frustrations. Here you see Ishiguro and its image.

Can you bully a robot?

Approaching robots in a human way can take extreme forms. This became clear when someone in America kicked a robot dog to demonstrate its stability. It subsequently rained complaints with the American animal protection. The rules of conduct are very clear from person to person. As the interaction between humans and robots increases, moral and ethical issues are becoming increasingly important.

Even though robots are lifeless objects without consciousness, violence against robots doesn't feel right to many people. Several studies have been conducted in which robots have been placed in public places. However, these appear to regularly incite violence in both children and adults. See below how children bully and even abuse a robot. Should the perpetrators be arrested? There are still plenty of questions that need to be answered.

Robot is being bullied

All in all, people still have enough to learn about how to handle robots. The relationship between humans and robots probably develops just as fast as the development of the robots themselves. Regardless of whether we interact with them in the future as equals or as tools, interaction with robots will always be there.

Anne van de Loosdrecht is an analyst at ftrprf and wrote this article for the theme Robotization

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