On the soul of robots

Image by Flickr user FlySi. Click for sourceNew Scientist has an interesting article discussing research on how we attribute personality traits to robots. This is not just the human-like android from research labs, it’s the robots that are already in widespread use in the workplace and home like the floor-cleaning Roomba.

This is a fantastic snippet about a study on the commercially available Aethon TUG robot, used to deliver supplies on hospital wards, and what staff made of the machine:

TUG, which is made by Aethon, can navigate a building’s corridors and elevators on its own and tell humans it has arrived with a delivery…

The lack of any social awareness led interviewees to complain that they felt “disrespected” by the robot. “It doesn’t have the manners we teach our children,” said one, “I find it insulting that I stand out of the way for patients… but it just barrels right on.”

Luckily for TUG, its unvarying, one-size-fits-all social skills happened to be a natural fit in the relaxed atmosphere of the post-natal ward, says Mutlu. But the same default settings were interpreted as demanding and attention-seeking on the oncology ward, which is a more stressful and busy place to work. “If you are going to design robots with human-like capabilities you have to design the appropriate social behaviour that goes along with it,” Mutlu says.

This reminds me of perhaps the only study that has evaluated what personality traits people attribute to the synthetic speech on a voice mail system, rating it as practical, intelligent, courteous, efficient, straight-forward, sophisticated, methodical, progressive and alert.

Link to NewSci article ‘Learning to love to hate robots’.

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