Humans Appear Programmed to Obey Robots, Studies Suggest
2014-02-28 0:00

By Jason Dorrier | Singularity Hub

Two 8-foot robots recently began directing traffic in the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa. The automatons are little more than traffic lights dressed up as campy 1960s robots—and yet, drivers obey them more readily than the humans previously directing traffic there.

Maybe it’s because the robots are bigger than the average traffic cop. Maybe it’s their fearsome metallic glint. Or maybe it’s because, in addition to their LED signals and stilted hand waving, they have multiple cameras recording ne’er-do-wells.

“If a driver says that it is not going to respect the robot because it’s just a machine the robot is going to take that, and there will be a ticket for him,” Isaie Therese, the engineer behind the bots, told CCTV Africa.

The Congolese bots provide a fascinating glimpse into human-robot interaction. It’s a rather surprising observation that humans so readily obey robots, even very simple ones, in certain situations. But the observation isn’t merely anecdotal—there’s research on the subject. (Hat tip to Motherboard for pointing out a fascinating study for us robot geeks.)

Last year, scientists at the University of Manitoba observed a group of 27 volunteers pressured to work on a docket of mundane tasks by either a 27-year-old human actor in a lab coat or an Aldeberan Nao robot—both called “Jim.”

Ever since the controversial 1971 Stanford prison experiment—wherein participants assigned roles of guards and prisoners demonstrated just how situational human morality can be—similar behavioral work has been rare and fraught.

Even so, if carefully conducted with the participants’ well-being in mind, such studies can provide valuable behavioral insights. The results of the Stanford study are still taught over 40 years later.

In this case, the researchers gave participants a moderately uncomfortable situation, told them they were free to quit at any time, and briefed them immediately following the test.

Each participant was paid C$10 to change file extensions from .jpg to .png as part of a “machine learning” experiment. To heighten their discomfort and the sense the task was endless, the workload began with a small batch of 10 files but grew each time the participant completed the assigned files (ultimately reaching a batch of 5,000).

Each time a participant protested, he was urged on by either the human or robot. The human proved the more convincing authority figure, but the robot was far from feckless.

10 of 13 participants said they viewed the robot as a legitimate authority, though they couldn’t explain why. Several people tried to strike up a conversation, and one showed remorse when the robot said it was ending the experiment and notifying the lead researcher, exclaiming, “No! Don’t tell him that! Jim, I didn’t mean that….I’m sorry.”


Read the full article at:

READ: Robot Rights: Is it OK to torture or murder a robot?

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