Discrete and Process Automation

Would You Switch Off a Robot That Begs For Its ‘Life’?

30 August 2018

A study participant interacts with Nao. Source: Aike Horstmann, et. al.A study participant interacts with Nao. Source: Aike Horstmann, et. al.

A study published July 31 in the open-source journal PLOS One attempted to determine whether a robot’s objection to switching it off had any effect on human operators.

The study split a group of 85 participants roughly in half, with one group interacting with a robot on a purely functional, machine-like level. The other group interacted with a robot on a more social, human-like level.

When it came time to switch off the robot, the researchers made the robot ask 43 people chosen from both groups not to switch it off. The robot, named Nao, pleaded with the group with phrases such as “Please do not switch me off! I am scared that I will not brighten up again!”

Of the 43 participants in the “Objection” group, 13 elected not to switch off the robot after it begged for its “life.” Interestingly, eight people from the functional interaction group, in which Nao displayed less human-like behavior, chose not to switch it off, versus five from the social interaction group. The functional/objection interaction group also took an average of around 14 seconds to decide whether to switch Nao off, versus six seconds for the social/objection group.

The study authors believe the surprising results may have been due to the impression that the robot’s emotional pleading conflicted with the machine-like behavior it exhibited during interaction with the functional group.

Asked why they chose to leave the robot on, participants gave answers related to compassion, curiosity as to whether Nao would continue interacting and surprise at the robot’s behavior.

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