People And Robots Working Together

So many great insights in this piece by Dr James E. Young about managing people and robots working together. Like how just being in the presence of a robot made people up their game:

In our research, we showed how a simple, small robot could pressure people to continue a highly tedious task—even after the people expressed repeated desire to quit—simply with verbal prodding.

The tendency to anthropomorphism, assigning a personality to a non-human object, is well known, but it’s still amusing to think of people cursing their robot co-worker:

Most surprising was not that people obeyed the robot, but the strategies they employed to try to resist the pressure. People tried arguing with and rationalizing with the robot, or appealing to an authority who wasn’t present (a researcher), but either continued their work or only gave up when the robot gave permission.

I once read something (can’t find it now) about our natural deference to authority leading to us presuming infallibility in computers, even if that means satnav leads us into the sea. I can see this happening:

One could imagine a robot giving seemingly innocuous direction such as to make a bolt tighter, change a tool setting or pressure level, or even to change which electronic parts are used. However, what if the robot is wrong (for example, due to a sensor error) and yet keeps insisting? Will people doubt themselves given robots’ advanced knowledge and sensor capability?

The very notion of a sarcastic robot with a shit-eating grin made me laugh too much:

Research has shown people feel less comfortable around robots who break social norms, such as by having shifty eyes or mismatched facial expressions. A robot’s personality, voice pitch or even the use of whispering can affect feelings of trust and comfort.

Working with a robot that always grins while criticizing you, stares at your feet while giving recommendations, stares off into space randomly or sounds sarcastic while providing positive feedback would be awkward and uncomfortable and make it hard to develop one’s trust in the machine.

I began reading this as a cute, slightly funny piece about the future, then realised that this is happening right now and it stopped being quite so funny. I, for one, welcome our new robot co-workers