Robots can manipulate human beings, warn experts

NAO robot used for the study

Robots have the ability to control our emotions and actions, recent research suggests. A study conducted to understand the effect of social interaction between humanoid robots and humans discovered that humans treated robots in a manner very similar to the way they treat fellow human beings, despite being told to do the opposite.

Researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany asked 89 volunteers to interact with NAO, an interactive humanoid robot. After interacting with the robot for a while, volunteers were asked to turn off the robot.

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In cases where the robot was silent the volunteers simply switched off the robot. However, in other cases, the robot was programmed to beg the volunteers not to switch it off! He was made to say phrases like “Please don’t kill me, I’m scared.” Of the 43 people who faced this choice, 13 people chose chose to comply to the robot’s pleas.

Scientists concluded that adding a human element to robots increases the tendency of human beings to empathise with them and think of them as real people with feelings and emotions.

The volunteers were allowed to “socialise” with the robot, asking and answering simple, friendly questions. They were told that these interactions would help improve the quality of the Artificial Intelligence robot. However, the real purpose of the study was to observe human behavior towards the non sentient robot.

This phenomena is also called media equation, an idea that was first studied more than 20 years ago by renowned media psychologist, Byron Reeves.

As Artificial Intelligence technology further develops, this could well become a very legitimate concern in robotics. As movies like Terminator and iRobot have shown, there is nothing more dangerous to mankind than a robot that can think for itself.

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