Study: Babies Mistake Robot For A Human

October 18, 2010


Wow, what a picture. Somebody must've opted for the deluxe package at Sears Portrait Studio!

A study at the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences took a sample of 64 18-month-old babies, who were all tested individually. The experimental test had the babies sit on their parents' laps, facing a remote-controlled humanoid robot. Sitting next to the robot was Rechele Brooks, one of the researchers on the study. Brooks and the robot (controlled remotely by an unseen researcher) would then engage in a 90-second skit, in which Brooks interacted with the robot as if it was a child, asking questions like "Where is your tummy?" and "Where is your head?" The robot would in turn point to its different parts. The robot would also imitate a few arm movements, like waving back and forth.

The babies who watched this skit looked back and forth between the robot and Brooks as if "at a ping-pong match," said Brooks. After the skit, Brooks left the room, leaving the baby and the robot alone. The robot would then beep and shift slightly to get the baby's attention, and then turn to look at a nearby toy.

In 13 out of 16 cases, the baby would follow the robot's gaze, suggesting that the baby sees the robot as a sentient being, that what the robot looks at might be of interest to the baby as well. Babies at that age distinguish between, say, a swivel chair's movement and a person's movement, and will only follow the person. But in following the robot, the study suggests that the baby has decided that robot is a human being.

I'm not gonna lie, that doesn't even sound like a well-designed experiment. What it does sound like is child abuse. But what do I know? I'm just a man who was raised by super-intelligent beings from another galaxy to come save your sorry asses from the robots when the time arises. And you better hope I'm not on the john at said time. Because I sit there until my legs go numb and I'll be in no shape to fight robots for at least 20 minutes. 30 if I decide to make a snack after because I just cleared some room.

In New Study, Babies Think A Silvery Robot Is Human, As Long As It Acts Friendly [popsci]

Thanks to Mih0, Jeff and Kelly, who's babies will never mistake robots for people because they've got a little something I like to call Anti-Robot Intuition.

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