The Loh Down On Science

How we'll respond when robots take over

Would you obey a robot boss?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Robots and robotic devices are everywhere these days! 

This got Canadian robotics researchers at the University of Manitoba curious.  How will humans respond if someday we actually need to take orders from robots?

To find out, they had 27 volunteers perform an intentionally tedious task.  Changing thousands of computer file extensions, one by one.  J-peg to png.  J-peg to png. 

Some volunteers’ instructor was a friendly lab-coated guy.  Others got a cute, toddler-sized robot named “Jim.”  Unbeknownst to the volunteers,  human operators controlled Jim from another room.  They had him make friendly gestures and respond affably to questions. 

As the task became increasingly boring, volunteers started asking to quit.  Both instructors politely encouraged, even pressured, them to continue.

What happened?

Eighty-six percent of the human instructor's volunteers continued.  And so did almost half of robot Jim’s.

The researchers say this shows that robots can exert authority, and that we’ll accept it.

Whatever you say, HAL.  J-peg to png.  J-peg to png.  J-peg to png.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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