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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Study: Robot Abuse Switches


  This may explain why characters like R2-D2 and Wall-E have their own action figures and plush toys. University researchers found that images of robots being abused or tortured generated sympathetic feelings in a test group of humans. It may sound frivolous, but empathy research can help the field of robotics with how they program intelligent machines to work with people in a variety of situations.

People feel uncomfortable when they see robots tortured, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Duisburg Essen in Germany. While the results may explain why some robots are popular characters in science fiction, they also have implications for robotics as more machines interact with humans in a wider range of situations.

The researchers, led by Astrid Rosenthal von der Putten, showed videos of a small dinosaur-shaped robot either being treated affectionately or abused. Measuring the level of the subjects' physical states immediately afterwards, along with asking questions about their emotional state, showed that subjects experienced more negative feelings while watching the robot being abused.
In a second study, conducted in collaboration with the Erwin L. Hahn Institute for Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Essen, the researchers looked into how people react to interactions between humans -- and between humans and robots.
The researchers in that study showed 14 subjects videos of a human, a robot and a second inanimate object being treated affectionately and then being abused. The subjects responded the same way when watching humans and robots being treated affectionately, but showed more concern for humans than for robots when watching videos of both being treated badly.
Long-term studies show that some people tend to form bonds with robots, while others don't. The researchers wanted to find out whether there's a common basis for emotional reactions towards humans and robots.
"When we know that on a neural basis people react similarly to robots and fellow humans, we might be either more careful in employing robots, or might exploit this in areas where the interactions with robots are mandatory," such as when the robots are used in rehabilitation, Rosenthal von der Putten told TechNewsWorld.
The study "is part of the general goal of acceptance of robots on different levels," said Philip Solis, a research director at ABI Research. It will be beneficial for most people, including those who "completely understand how every aspect of a robot works and know it is just programming."

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