Study participants sacrifice human lives for a robot

When humanoid robots look like real people, people also develop empathy for them. This makes it harder for them to make factual decisions. This has been shown in a study.

What difference does it make to humans if a humanoid robot resembles a machine? Photo: Nijmegen University / NL

What difference does it make to humans if a humanoid robot resembles a machine? A team of German and Dutch scientists has investigated this.

Photo: University of Nijmegen / NL

It is absurd for fans of the science fiction series Star Trek to complain in forums, that the figure Data was “dead”. Because Data did not live at all. He was an Android, a humanoid robot. But at the latest, when he got implanted an emotion chip and was initially overwhelmed by his feelings, the human viewer felt close to him – thus revealing a fundamental problem: how will the relationship between humans and robots develop if they become more and more like behave and possibly behave like living beings? A team of German and Dutch scientists tested this in a study. With a surprising result.

Humanoid robots in everyday life – how are they perceived?

Robots are increasingly finding their way into our everyday lives – in technology-savvy Japan, they are already cleaning their homes in private households. The Germans are a bit more reserved. However, we are also discussing, for example, care robots designed to relieve the workforce in hospitals and nursing homes. For example, researchers at the Frankfurt University of Applied Science are using the Pepper model to help staff with food distribution. And at the Children’s Clinic of the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH) a robot sings and dances in a pilot project with the little patients and shows them fitness exercises.

The more present machines with artificial intelligence, the more urgent the question arises how they are perceived by the people and what the consequences could be. A team led by Sari Nijssen from Radboud University in Nijmegen in the Netherlands and Markus Paulus, Professor of Developmental Psychology at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, investigated exactly this in a study. Scientists wanted to find out how people develop compassion for robots.

Humans feel empathy for machines with artificial intelligence

“We investigated how adults are willing to sacrifice robots to save humans “Sari Nijssen says. The participants of the study were faced with an already often discussed moral dilemma: would they put an individual in mortal danger to save a group of injured people? The researchers based on different scenarios. Sometimes the individual was a human, sometimes a humanoid robot with human features and sometimes a robot that looked like a machine.

The question was asked Scientists are not purely theoretical. In short stories, they first introduced the subject to the robot. For example, they showed him as a compassionate being with his own ideas. As a result, the more the robot resembled a human, the harder it was to sacrifice the machine with artificial intelligence. For some participants, empathy went so far that they were willing to sacrifice the group of injured people to save the robot. “This indicates that the robot was given a kind of moral status. One possible implication is that we should be careful to make robots more and more human-like. This could conflict with their actual function of helping people, “says Paul.

Further Study: Real-Facial Robots Are Unappealing

Whether man instinctively senses this problem? After all, scientists at the Institute of Communication Psychology and Media Education at the University of Koblenz-Landau already did some tests with different robots about two years ago. They found that the human study participants had problems with machines that acted very independently. Their artificial intelligence was scary to them. Even greater was the defensive attitude towards robots with human features. Because these still do not behave perfectly, may move angularly or smile the decisive moment too late. That affects people unsympathetic. Robots with simplistic facial features arrived best, clearly recognizable as machines.

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