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People Prefer Robots That Are 'Flawed' Just As They Are: Study

15 October 2015, 6:08 am EDT By Alyssa Navarro Tech Times
A new study in the United Kingdom revealed that people prefer to be with robots that are imperfect. Researchers hope that this will pave the way for long-term human-robot relationships. Erwin (center) is one of the researchers' friendly robots.  ( University of Lincoln School of Computer Science )

Robots are currently used as interactive companions in different environments. Most people are more comfortable being with robots that are just as flawed as they are, a recent study says, and they can establish helpful working relationships with them if they were not considered to be perfect.

Caregivers who take care of the elderly and people with autism, Asperger syndrome or attachment disorder often have companion robots to support them. Researchers found that when robots are designed to be too intelligent, it becomes a barrier for a potentially long-term human-robot relationship.

In a study conducted by the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom, researchers examined the factors that would likely affect human-robot relationships. The group brought two of their robots named Erwin (Emotional Robot With Intelligent Network) and Keepon to a room full of people and observed the interactions between them.

At the first part of the interaction, the robots showed off their flawless capabilities. Afterwards, Erwin committed errors in remembering facts, while Keepon exhibited extreme sadness, happiness and other emotions through sounds and physical movements.

The result was that the respondents preferred it when the robots seemed to possess human-like characteristics such as making mistakes and showing emotions. Researchers concluded that a companion robot should be friendly and empathic in a way that they recognize users' needs and emotions, and then act accordingly.

"By developing these cognitive biases in the robots – and in turn making them as imperfect as humans – we have shown that flaws in their 'characters' help humans to understand, relate to and interact with the robots more easily," said Mriganka Biswas, one of the researchers of the study.

Biswas is confident that as long as humans can see that a robot is capable of showing imperfections during interactions, long-term relationships with them can be developed.

He said that even though people's perceptions of robots are heavily influenced by science fiction, there is a difference between the notion of emotionally-distant superior robots and the researchers' goal of developing complex human-robot interactions.

The next step of Biswas' research is to examine whether humanoid robots' appearance helps people comprehend their gestures and movements better. He also wants to see if people will react positively to a humanoid robot with an external appearance and additional human-like traits.

Biswas, along with fellow researcher Dr. John Murray, presented the study at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) conference in Hamburg.

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