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