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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 moogied (1175879) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:34PM (#21258757)
    or any pet for that matter.

    For example.. take this sentence:

    games with the robot, hugging it, and covering it up with a blanket
    and replace robot with dog.

    Would that be news worthy? No. Why? Because its in the nature of most children to play games and take cares of others(because that is what people do to them.) This does not mean they see it as a peer. They see it as a pet.

    • by mdobossy (674488) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:38PM (#21258803)

      and replace robot with dog.
      What I found most interesting, however, is the difference between how the children interacted with 1) a more "robotic" control robot, 2) the "more human" robot when it ceases to act "more human". Sure a kid will nurture/care for a pet, but it is very different than how they treat a stuffed animal/toy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Device666 (901563)
        Actually very young kids don't treat animals so much different than toys. I have seen a kid trying to use a guineepig as a little toy car. It's also no wonder kids grab the tails of cats, they would do the same with their stuffed whinnie the pooh bear. At a young age they mixup animals a lot calling a horse sheep etc. So it's not that difficult to imagine mixing up pets and robots (toys).
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pokerdad (1124121)

        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 dintech (998802)
          My son frequently feeds, kisses, talks to, and puts his toys to bed... ...his toy cars receive more attention and affection than any others.

          How interesting. In 30 years he'll do the same thing with his Porsche.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by VernonNemitz (581327)
      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.
      • I'm not sure how the two follow. Proving that prejudice is the fault of adults and then saying that prejudice can be ended by dealing with children? Doesn't make sense to me. Where did the prejudice come from and what will keep it from coming back?
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by dajak (662256)
          I imagine that I will teach my 10 months old son my prejudices later, just like I am teaching him right now not to torture the cat.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by stoolpigeon (454276) *
            Or he'll grow up and at some point develop some all on his own. I don't think we learn all our prejudices as children. I don't think we learn all our prejudices at all. I think we can come up with them all on our own.
      • toddlers of different human "breeds" will often group up according to race, age, and gender given free opportunity to self organize. one can argue that they've already been imprinted with bias at that young age - but one can also argue that they have not.

        lol @ "breed".
    • by Itninja (937614) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:44PM (#21258881) Homepage
      To an 18 month old child, I doubt there much difference between the way they treat a pet and the way they treat a peer. For that matter, between nearly any object and a peer. Children will anthropomorphize anything. I've seen kids try to share their PB & J sandwich with a VCR. Is the VCR a peer? I guess in some abstract, childish way, it is. The real test is when they start competing with a parent for the affections of the robot. I still think my Mom likes her Roomba more than me....
    • Actually, kids to think of pets as their peers. It's just part of how they see the world.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by corifornia2 (1158503)
      I saw we give the robot lasers and a buzz saw and see how the kid treat it then.
    • by Gulthek (12570)
      Or with stuffed animal.
    • by Kingrames (858416) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @07:55PM (#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 Koiu Lpoi (632570)
        Companion Cube much?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by nwbvt (768631)

        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 treatme

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Someone with a bit more knowledge might be able to expand on this.

      There was a famous experiment where a researcher had his child interact with a Chimp to see if the Chimp would exhibit human behavior. He found out after a while his child actually started to act like the chimp.

      I wonder if the kids acted similar to the robot?
    • by solitas (916005)
      Yes, but kids seeing it as a 'pet' doesn't generate nearly as much Ph.D.-output as if they see it as a 'peer'. Gotta keep those phony-baloney jobs, y'know...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hey! (33014)
      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 outperfo
  • yeah.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by resfilter (960880) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:34PM (#21258767)
    most young children also treat inanimate dolls or stuffed animals as peers

    why is this so groundbreaking?
    • Re:yeah.. (Score:4, Informative)

      by bcharr2 (1046322) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:55PM (#21259055)

      Most young children also treat inanimate dolls or stuffed animals as peers

      You raise a good point. The study also utilized another robot that simulated a inanimate doll or stuffed animal. The article states:

      The children also treated QRIO with more care and attention than a similar-looking but inanimate robot that the researchers called Robby, which acted as a control in the experiment. Once they had grown accustomed to QRIO, they hugged it much more than Robby, who also received far more rough treatment.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by glittalogik (837604)

        ...who also received far more rough treatment.
        Proof that defilement of corpses is a naturally evolved trait.
      • by lahvak (69490)
        Again, no surprise here. Given two dolls, identically looking but one that does all sort of amazing stuff and one that just sits there, which one do you thing the kids will rather play with? They will sometimes pick up the "boring" one as a prop in the play with the "cool" one, but when they are done with it, they will toss it aside.
  • by iknownuttin (1099999) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:34PM (#21258771)
    ...but a new study shows that a giggling robot is sophisticated enough to get toddlers to treat it as a peer.

    "Robot Overlord" jokes are actually on topic!

    • by IgLou (732042)
      Exactly! First they become our peers then they become our overlords.

      Although, I vaguely remember being young trying to share food with the TV; it sounds similar. Oh TV, my one true friend. Ahem, but a robot could never be accepted as a peer they don't have TV's personality. Isn't that right TV?
      • by Applekid (993327)

        Here Tom Seleck. Come on. Down the hatch. Come on. Hey Hey! None for you Higgins! Tryin' to steal Tom Seleck's food. Nooo No. You had yours.
    • I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.
  • by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:35PM (#21258775) Homepage Journal
    and they put me in the middle of a room full of toddlers.

    Life? Don't talk to me about life.
  • by techpawn (969834) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:35PM (#21258781) Journal

    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."
    Some researcher said sex with robots in the next 20 years right? Might as well start em early...
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:37PM (#21258791) Homepage
    ...Androids will not need to mimic human appearance, skin resilience and temperature, etc. with high fidelity.

    Human beings are sufficiently capable of anthropomorphizing... or empathizing... to treat even obviously non-humanoid things as human. (As witness the bonding between humans and pets).

    Robots only need to be reasonably human-like in appearance and behavior, and humans will meet them more than halfway.

    And, of course, and unfortunately, human beings are also capable of treating actual human beings as not human.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hellergood (968199)
      Agreed! [google.com] :)
    • Not only that... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Shauni (1164077) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:54PM (#21259029)
      People are probably more likely to "socialize" with a robot if they can put it in its own separate category easily. Interacting with a non-human intelligence yet human container is bound to be disturbing (it's one of the sources of the uncanny valley)
      • Yeah, it's almost like:

        "Omg lol the magnets are afraid of each other, but when you turn one around, they're friends again!"

        ***

        "Hi, my name is Lt. Cmdr. Data, and I was constructed by ..."
        "fake!"
      • People are probably more likely to "socialize" with a robot if they can put it in its own separate category easily. Interacting with a non-human intelligence yet human container is bound to be disturbing (it's one of the sources of the uncanny valley)

        Assuming that the uncanny valley is anything but hot air. Which, to date, there isn't any reason to assume otherwise.
    • 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)
    • by NMerriam (15122)

      Robots only need to be reasonably human-like in appearance and behavior, and humans will meet them more than halfway.

      Yeah, I think on a practical level the only reason a general-purpose robot would need to be human-like is so that it can use existing tools and get around in our environment without needing any adaptations. The idea that it needs to be human-like simply to be socially accepted is silly (except for the sexbots, those will have to be pretty human-like).

      • (except for the sexbots, those will have to be pretty human-like)

        Are sex toys human like?

        Perhaps a "love" bot will have to be human-like, but a sexbot could be a flying toaster with a variety of appendages, and I don't think it would matter.
    • 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 s
  • by Mysticalfruit (533341) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:44PM (#21258895) Journal
    They looked like really slick pieces of technology. Though, if I ever got one, I'd be too tempted to program it to act like Gir...
  • Not surpised. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Thornburg (264444) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:45PM (#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).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by porcupine8 (816071)
      As a not-yet-phd'ed proto-psychologist, here's how I'd put it: Kids this age are unclear on what has agency and what doesn't. They are also unclear on the division between themselves and other people - they think that everyone can see what they see, for instance, and knows what they are thinking or feeling to a certain extent and thinks/feels the same way. Add these two together, and they attribute agency to something that *acts* like other things with agency, plus assume that because it has agency, it thin
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by iluvcapra (782887)

        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 ont

  • Awwwww.

    "...and covering it up with a blanket when its batteries ran down."
  • Awww...... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EjayHire (860402) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @04:48PM (#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.)
    • I'm a dad. It might not have been the sweetest thing I've heard, but I definitely sub-vocalized an "awww" when I read it. I thought that either of my kids would have done the same thing.

    • Our toddler does this with the cats when they are passed out on the floor. She covers them with a blanket and brings over a stuffed animal. I think it is adorable. She also does this with the Tickle-Me-Elmo, incidentally, as long as it is off. She is terrified of the thing if it is turned on, to the extent that she will cower on the other end of the house. We have it out and off in the hopes she will eventually be accustomed to it. I really think the Tickle-Me-Elmo (My folks got her the "Extreme" edition.)
      • Our toddler does this with the cats when they are passed out on the floor.

        Passed out? What the hell are you putting in their water dish?
        • antifreeze if he's smart.

          'mister my cat wont wake up. can you help me wake him up?'
        • I found the rum!
        • by lahvak (69490)
          Passed out? What the hell are you putting in their water dish?

          Probably valerian.
      • I really think the Tickle-Me-Elmo (My folks got her the "Extreme" edition)

        The Extreme Edition actually exists? Shit. I though Jhonen was joking...

      • by lahvak (69490)
        She also does this with the Tickle-Me-Elmo, incidentally, as long as it is off. She is terrified of the thing if it is turned on, to the extent that she will cower on the other end of the house.

        No kidding! I am terrified of that thing too. I find just a regular Elmo pretty frightening, the "tickle-me" variant is just plain scary.
    • by mstahl (701501) <marrrrrk AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @06:44PM (#21260443) Homepage Journal

      Nah it's not just you. I'm a guy and I seriously awww'd loud enough that the whole office took notice. It's seriously the most adorable thing I've read in a few days.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      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.
       
      (and she notes that she called it "his", inferring gender to the asexual robot.)

      And he notes that the male pronoun is the default in the English language - and does not imply gender. (English lacks gender, unlike many other languages.)
  • Curious (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cillian (1003268)
    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.
  • because thats what children do... obviously these researchers dont have kids...
  • Alphie (Score:5, Funny)

    by kisrael (134664) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @05:03PM (#21259159) Homepage
    I was an only child in a neighborhood without many kids.
    I really liked "Alphie", this game playing robot (circa 1979).
    Had him for years, then let some other kids play with him and he broke.

    Lesson learned: other kids suck.
  • by rumli (1066212)
    Children have been hugging and caring for teddy-bears and dolls since forever. Dolls that talk or move get more attention. What's new?
  • I wanted to find out what the kids' mother thought of all this, but she's made of wireframe. [realityshifters.com]
  • Kids 'n Roombas (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bradgoodman (964302) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @05:16PM (#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! :-)

    • Well of course now my kids 9 months he doesn't switch the roomba on. He's programmed his lego mindstorms to do that for him when the dirt-sensor detects the lowered reflectivity of the floor ...

      [Sorry, couldn't help it. Kids _are_ amazing. Our lad's 2-and-a-third and can switch on mobile phone, plug in and switch on (or off!) appliances, use the CD player, make a cube of chocolate cover a square metre ... he's a bit of a wimp though so I think roomba would be too hard for him!]

      On the article. Summary: kids
  • Peers (Score:3, Funny)

    by Karl0Erik (1138443) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @05:55PM (#21259915)
    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.

    As a kid, I don't recall covering my friends with blankets when their batteries ran down.
  • in early childhood that a robot is your peer (and does nothing wrong).

    Those early childhood memories are there, often deep in subconcious unless an individual does some kind of self-exploration.
    I am sure this kind of imprinting is noticed by the right people.
  • Human-assisted... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by evilviper (135110) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @06:49PM (#21260503) Journal
    Just one very big problem:

    A human operator could also make the robot turn its gaze towards a child or wave as they went away.


    So it isn't just a robot, artificially intelligent enough to fool toddlers. It's something of a human-controlled puppet, with them telling it to do more advanced things than it could figure out on its own.

    So, I guess, basically a PR stunt for Sony.
    • by timeOday (582209)
      The paper says the operator sent the robot an average of 1 byte every 141 seconds, so it's hardly a puppet. Also, Sony never sold the QRIO, and discontinued development in Jan. of 2006, so the financial motivation for Sony is small.
    • Yes the robot was more of a puppet then anything else. But the purpose was NOT to make useful machine. The purpose of the experiment was to determine just how interactive a robot would need to be before it was accepted by the children. For this a puppet is perfect. The reasearchers got their data and by using a puppet did not need to construct a sophisticated robot controller
  • by xPsi (851544) *

    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.
    Children? Robots? Us Mac users are already quite familiar with this effect.
  • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @11:52PM (#21263047)
    ... robots will become so lifelike that the teachers will try to have sex with them.
  • Am I the only one to notice that in TFA, they quoted "Javier Movellan" -- "Movellan" being the name of the android race at war with the Daleks in "Destiny of the Daleks"?
  • "Teacher, I gave Robby my milk cause he didn't have any. Now he's making funny noises..."
  • Whoever did the "nodisassemble" tag, y'all're geniuses. I'm going to bed with a smile tonight, thanks.
  • Computing has now passed the toddler Turing test. Seeing Skynet's [astronautix.com] been operational for quite a while now, it's about time the robots caught up.
  • BENDER:
    Well, Fry, it was a pleasure meetin' you.
    I'm gonna go kill myself.

    FRY:
    Wait! You're the only friend I have.

    BENDER:
    You really want a robot for a friend?

    FRY:
    Yeah. Ever since I was six.

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