Robot manipulates humans in creepy new experiment. Should we be worried?

People have trouble turning off cute little bot that begs to be left on.

15 August, 2018 

As robots and other intelligent machines grow smarter and more capable, some experts worry about the day when their intelligence surpasses ours. But even without such “superintelligence,” robots are capable of pushing our emotional buttons — as a provocative new study makes abundantly clear.

A team of researchers at the University of Duisberg-Essen in Germany found that people who were asked to turn off a humanoid robot hesitated to do so if the bot pleaded to stay on. The participants’ reluctance demonstrates a telling quirk in our relationship with technology, the researchers said: People are prone to treat robots more like people than machines.

“We are preprogrammed to react socially,” said study co-author Nicole Krämer, a professor of social psychology at the university. “We have not yet learned to distinguish between human social cues and artificial entities who present social cues.”

In both cases, the participants hesitated when the robot said: “No! Please do not switch me off!” — and some refused to turn Nao off altogether. Asked why they were reluctant to turn the robot off, one participant said, “Because Nao said he does not want to be switched off.” Another said, “I felt sorry for him.”

For the study, published July 31 in the journal Plos One, Krämer and her collaborators asked 89 people to interact with Nao, a cute, commercially available robot, and then turn it off. In some instances, the robot was personable, discussing pizza and its birthday. In others, it acted like an emotionless, talking appliance.

Those who worked with the more humanlike Nao found the decision particularly stressful. Surprisingly, however, people who interacted with Nao in its machine-like persona took longer to hit the switch — apparently, the researchers said, because the sudden show of simulated emotion was so jarring