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ACM Opinion

No More Mr. Nice Robot?


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Illustration of a robot and woman arm wrestling.

Humans are so used to conflict with one another that a little rudeness might actually make a machine feel more natural to us. It may be that human beings are too cantankerous to be at ease with obsequious robots.

Robots are moving into more emotionally fraught relationships than that of vacuum cleaner to owner: teaching kids, caring for the sick and elderly, and more. Maybe robot makers are right to assume that their machines can stay obsequious as they perform such psychologically rich tasks. Maybe, though, they're wrong. Perhaps, instead, bouts of stubborn, resentful, passive-aggressive, or outright rude behavior are essential for some kinds of work. If that's so, then wanting machines to be deferential and undemanding will conflict with wanting them to do a good job.

Exploring that idea, roboticists have created surprisingly rude machines. It's for research purposes only at the moment, but if it proves correct, it may mean No More Mr. Nice Robot in the near future.

From Slate
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