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Robotics Science

Robot Becomes One of the Kids 186

Posted by kdawson
from the everybody-say-awwww dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Researchers have found that toddlers treat a small robot as a peer rather than a toy. A team from the University of California, San Diego, placed Sony's QRIO in a classroom of kids aged 18 months to 2 years and watched them interact. Over time the children grew to treat the robot as one of them — playing games with the robot, hugging it, and covering it up with a blanket when its batteries ran down."
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Robot Becomes One of the Kids

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  • by VernonNemitz (581327) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @03:41PM (#21258847) Journal
    The key point is that such experiments allow us to prove to us adults that all the prejudice in the world is the fault of people older than toddlers. To end racial prejudice, toddlers of different human breeds need to be raised together. And so on.
  • Not surpised. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Thornburg (264444) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @03:45PM (#21258901)
    As the father of a 2 year old and a 4 year old, I am not at all surprised that the children behaved this way. Kids in that age group have very few prejudices, and have a very down to earth perspective, so if something looks and acts vaguely like they do, they treat it with respect (in their own way).

    Note that the researchers correlate treating something with some respect to treating it like a human. Many people (both children and adults) treat pets or other non-human animals in this manner.

    Robiticists are apparently excited by this, but I'm going to guess (based on the fairly short linked story (yes, I RTFA), that sociologists and/or psychologists will great this with a resounding "DUH!".

    (Disclaimer: I am not a roboticist, sociologist, or psychologist).
  • Awww...... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EjayHire (860402) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @03:48PM (#21258957)
    Ok, maybe it's a girl thing, but kids putting a blanket over the robot when his batteries run down is about the sweetest thing I have ever heard.
    -e

    (and she notes that she called it "his", inferring gender to the asexual robot.)
  • Curious (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cillian (1003268) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @03:53PM (#21259019) Homepage
    I'm curious as to whether the kids actually thought the robot was another kid or how much they understood what it was (I can't really remember how intelligent I was at that age...). I'd have thought a better way to make the kids take a consistent interest in the robot would be to make it do something useful, like, say, actually help in the classroom rather than just dance or giggle.
  • by ashitaka (27544) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @03:58PM (#21259087) Homepage
    Not even that. Just take a couple of yellow sponge balls, stick them together, add a couple of simple eyes, a button nose and make it dance.

    Then you have the robot [youtube.com] that everyone wants. (But can't have)
  • Kids 'n Roombas (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bradgoodman (964302) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:16PM (#21259341) Homepage
    I just love "researchers"....

    I don't know this study has anything to do with "robots". Children this age engage in all kinds of "imitative" play. And what are they imitating? Their parents - young kids (like mine) will feed, nurse, change, put to bed, their dolls, stuffed animals, etc. The "robot" is just another vehicle (no pun intended) for this.

    That being said, my kids love the Roomba. Before they could even walk, they knew exactly how to turn it on - and would crawl all over the kitchen, chasing it around! My 2-year old son would lie down next to it and put his arm around it! (Until he accidentally turned it on, and he ran screaming away from it smack into a door on the other side of the kitchen!)

    I was shocked the other day when I mentioned some thing about turning on the Roomba, and my 14-month old crawled over to it, pressed the "on" button, then the "clean" button - then when it made its "beep-beep-beep" (meaning it's about to start) - she quickly dropped to her hands and crawled quickly away from it, perfectly perpendicular to what would be it's travel-path off it's docking station. I shouldn't have been surprised, her second and third words were "Robot" and "Roomba"!

    So, they're toys like any other to the kids - but obviously a lot more fun! :-)

  • by Asmor (775910) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:28PM (#21259545) Homepage
    There's this concept of an "uncanny valley" where basically, something that's too close to human just looks totally off-putting.

    The name is based on a graph of "likability" vs. how realistic something looks... You see that things get more likable as they get closer to being indistinguishable from real, and then all of a sudden when they get very close, but not perfect, it suddenly dips down. As an example, many people find dolls creepy because they look very human-like.

    As always, Wikipedia has more on the subject and probably does a better job explaining it than I do. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Not surpised. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by iluvcapra (782887) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @06:04PM (#21260629)

    It's a very interesting reading, I think you have your thesis!

    This discussion of course brings up the case of Kismet the Robot [wikipedia.org], to which many fully mature adults display an emotional response. They may KNOW that the robot has no emotions itself, but a smiley face and big eyes that respond to even a small repertory of facial responses in the human is enough to create the impression of sympathy, and enough to elicit an unconscious smile back from the human.

    Getting people to attribute agency or emotions onto inanimate objects has a long history of course, just ask a Totem Pole ;). A lot of people are convinced their computer has a personality, after all.

  • by Kingrames (858416) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @06:55PM (#21261183)
    Our soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq were the target of a similar study, and you'd be surprised to know that the results were similar. Many of our troops were visibly upset and shaking after the "death" of a bomb-detonating robot designed for the SOLE PURPOSE of walking over to a bomb and detonating it. It even reached the point where they asked for military command to stop using the robots for such "inhumane" missions.

    You make it sound like this is childish behavior, but I think that perhaps even you might exhibit some of it too given enough time with a similar robot.
  • by pokerdad (1124121) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @11:08PM (#21263145)

    Sure a kid will nurture/care for a pet, but it is very different than how they treat a stuffed animal/toy.

    Being an only child (and a man) nearly all my experience with babies/toddlers has come from my son, so this is admitly anecdotal, but with regards to him you couldn't be more wrong.

    My son frequently feeds, kisses, talks to, and puts his toys to bed. This is in no way limited to human-like or animal-like toys, in fact, his toy cars receive more attention and affection than any others.

  • by nwbvt (768631) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @08:08AM (#21265611)

    Most people also get upset when something happens to their car (and I don't mean the simple "damn, now I'll have to take the bus" reaction). Its a known fact that people can get attached to mechanical objects. Thats not what this study was about.

    They developed two robots, one very mechanical, and one that giggled and appeared to interact with the children. The children treated the second robot much different from the first robot. The first they treated more or less as a toy, with all the rough treatment that entails. They may well have become upset had it been taken away (as kids do for most of their toys), but they interacted with it differently than they would another child. They second they treated much like they would treat another kid, from how they touched it to how they took care of it. And the most interesting thing was over the long term this interest lasted, while they got bored with the first robot.

  • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:03AM (#21266961) Homepage Journal
    Dogs are a special case. Domestic dogs have been selectively bred over countless generations to interact with people.

    I remember reading in Science News about a study where the ability of dogs and chimps to pick up on subtle human behavioral cues. Chimps are far, far more intelligent generally than dogs are. Chimps live in social groups that are much more complex, and perhaps human like, than wild dogs. They're our closest living evolutionary relative, other than the bonobo. Despite this, dogs outperformed chimps at interpreting human behavioral cues.

    The cheat in this experiment is that the researchers controlled the robot so it interacted with the children. If completely autonomous robots could approach the level of sophistication of a dog when it comes to interacting with a human, that would be news indeed.

    In any case, kids are a special case. Anthropomorphizing a machine is an act of imagination. The imagination of children is tremendously more vivid than adult imagination. When they run around the house pretending to fly, they are as close to experiencing flight like a bird as they will ever be in their lives. Careful parents make sure any second story windows are securely closed.

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