Two scientists, Sari Nijssen and Markus Paulus from Radboud University and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet, carried out a new study about humans and robots. Some of their findings may be surprising to you, including how people reacted to a moral dilemma. While it may seem obvious that all humans should be okay with a robot being harmed or destroyed to save other human beings, that was not necessarily the case, as detailed by the Scientific Daily.
The study looked into “Under what circumstances and to what extent would adults be willing to sacrifice robots to save human lives?” The participants were presented with a moral dilemma, where they would have to put an individual at risk in order to save a group of “injured persons.” In some scenarios, the individual was a human being. In others, it was a robot that looked or acted human-like, or a robot that looked like a machine.
When participants found out that the human-like robot had “its own perceptions, experiences and thoughts,” that “many of the experimental subjects expressed a readiness to sacrifice the injured humans to spare the robot from harm.”
“The more the robot was depicted as human — and in particular the more feelings were attributed to the machine — the less our experimental subjects were inclined to sacrifice it. This result indicates that our study group attributed a certain moral status to the robot. One possible implication of this finding is that attempts to humanize robots should not go too far.”
This conclusion was drawn by Paulus, who also noted that people’s perceptions of a robot as human-like could get in the way of the robot’s functions.
While robots still seem out of reach for most consumers, they’re already starting to become a part of many people’s lives. Some good examples are the digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, who don’t have much of a physical presence. However, the A.I. system is becoming more an more pervasive, with people relying on them to complete simple tasks and to make their lives easier.
In addition, Sophia the robot has become known mainstream, along with their creators releasing a smaller model, Little Sophia, which is intended for children. Additionally, robots are being rolled out to perform deliveries, cook burgers at restaurants, and direct customers in stores and public spaces.
And while the scientific study is eye-opening, it’s certainly different for people to theorize about what they would do in the moral scenarios presented to them, or to actually act it out.