Researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany have found that people are very susceptible to social cues from machines, to the point that they will refrain from shutting off a robot that begs for its life.
In their experiments, volunteers were instructed to complete tasks using the small humanoid Nao robot to improve its learning algorithms. After the tasks were completed, the actual test assessed how volunteers reacted when they were asked to turn Nao off, with the machine programmed to protest and even plead not to be turned off in about half of the sessions.
Thirteen of the 43 volunteers who heard Nao's pleas refused to turn it off, while the remaining 30 took twice as long to comply, on average, compared to those who did not hear the pleas.
A surprising finding was that Nao's exhibition of social behavior before it asked not to be deactivated had little impact on whether participants acquiesced.
The researchers said, “Triggered by the objection, people tend to treat the robot rather as a real person than just a machine by following or at least considering to follow its request to stay switched on.”
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