Monday, 5 March 2012

Robot prejudice

Armin or Arman
The human tendency to form groups can turn ugly when we derogate non-members and start seeing them as somehow lesser people. A new study by Friederike Eyssel and Dieta Kuchenbrandt shows how readily this instinct for prejudice extends to our perception of robots.

Seventy-eight German students volunteered for what they thought was a chance to help the researchers optimise a social robot prototype. Shown identical pictures of the robot, half the students were told the machine was called Armin (a typical German first name) and that it had been developed in Germany. The other students were told the robot was called Arman (a typical Turkish name; Turks are the largest minority group in Germany) and that it had been developed at a Turkish university.

The students evaluating the supposedly German-built robot Armin, rated it as warmer, of superior design, as having more of a mind, said they felt psychologically closer to it, and expressed more of a willingness to live with it, as compared with the students who evaluated the supposedly Turkish-built Arman. So not only did the German students show a basic preferential bias toward the robot that had a German name and provenance, they also saw it as more human. This fits with previous research showing how readily we are able to perceive out-group members, such as the homeless, as less than human.

"We demonstrated that social categorisation processes generalise to non-human agents," the researchers said. "Even small changes at a seemingly superficial level ... sufficed to bias both the mental models of the robots, and subsequent evaluations. Our results document how deeply ingrained heuristic modes of thinking about others seem to be - may they be human or even non-human."

It's a shame that the researchers didn't include a separate, standard measure of the prejudice of their participants towards Turkish people. Would people without any measurable prejudice still have exhibited these biases towards the German robot? Another important omission: there was no assessment in the paper of whether the participants were fans of the Terminator film franchise - surely Arnie fans the world over would have had a soft spot for Armin over Arman.

Eyssel and Kuchenbrandt said their findings have practical implications. Sooner or later, they predicted, robots will enter our homes. "If one and the same product shall be marketed in different countries, it might be valuable to provide the robot with a brand name that signifies in-group membership," they said.


Eyssel, F., and Kuchenbrandt, D. (2011). Social categorization of social robots: Anthropomorphism as a function of robot group membership. British Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8309.2011.02082.x

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.


Neuroskeptic said...

I thought this was going to be an article about someone who programmed a robot to be a racist...

Bill Benzon said...

FWIW, some years ago Frederik Schodt published a history of robots in Japan, Inside the Robot Kingdom (Kodansha 1988). During the early days of industrial robotics a Shinto welcoming ceremony would be performed whenever a robot was added to the assembly line, the same ceremony that was performed when a new human worker was added.

Anonymous said...

Name one thing that's made in Turkey that's any good. Hash, Kebabs and Turkish Delight do not count.

Isabella Aitkinson said...

Racism against robots eeh... My dreams about technocracy are crumbling -.-

Limon Ahmed said...

Very Interesting post about Robot.
I have a Strong Curiosity about Robot.
Thanks for the Post.

Anonymous said...

I am a turk born and raised in Germany, why was this study nessecary? I could tell the outcomes without any experiment and it is common sense anyway. Once racist always racist!

john_m_burt said...

I wonder whether the transference of prejudice would be stronger with robots? As the anonymous coward of March 6th points out, there is a strong prejudice against any sort of Turkish technology, so possibly a "new Turkish car" or cell phone would face the same hostility.

I am amused to note that one of the comments above clearly comes from a "robot" spammer....

Gunther Cox said...

I'm not sure if robots would face oppression. Lust look at societies most popular articles. Robots are in the news every day. The thing about robots that is different from humans is that there is not one set picture of what a robot looks like. Humans face racism due to identifying characteristics that we can pick up on and put in a category. Robots all look different and do completely different things. The term robot applies to such a wide variety that I would be willing to bet that there will be just as many people who are racist towards robots as there are people who are racist towards animals.

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