The Uncanny Valley of Personality: People Like Robots Better When They Aren't Perfect

Wednesday, 14 October 2015 - 2:38PM
Artificial Intelligence
Robotics
Wednesday, 14 October 2015 - 2:38PM
The Uncanny Valley of Personality: People Like Robots Better When They Aren't Perfect

According to the theory of the "uncanny valley," people are viscerally repulsed by artificial beings that look somewhat like humans, but are too plastic and perfect. Now, researchers from the University of Lincoln have procured evidence that there exists an uncanny valley of personality, in which humans prefer robots who are at least slightly flawed in their functioning.

For the experiment, members of the public were asked to interact with two different robots: the Emotional Robot With Intelligent Network (ERWIN), which was created in order to explore the possibility of long-term relationships between humans and robots and can express five different emotions in its facial expressions, and Keepon, a small yellow robot who resembles a rubber ducky and was created to study social development by interacting with children. For the first half of the experiment, both robots carried out their tasks impeccably, but in the second half, ERWIN experienced memory glitches, and Keepon exhibited extreme swings between happiness and sadness. The researchers found that participants overwhelmingly preferred both robots when they made mistakes.

Opening quote
"The cognitive biases we introduced led to a more humanlike interaction process," PhD researcher Mriganka Biswas explained at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) conference (via Phys.org). "We monitored how the participants responded to the robots and overwhelmingly found that they paid attention for longer and actually enjoyed the fact that a robot could make common mistakes, forget facts and express more extreme emotions, just as humans can."
Closing quote

This makes sense, considering that humans experience forgetfulness, mood swings, and general imperfections all the time. Humans are fallible, so it makes sense that we would more easily relate to robots who are also imperfect. Plus, they're infinitely more entertaining when they fail at tasks than when they succeed:



The researchers hope that this research could lead to more effective companion robots with "personalities" that more closely approximate human behavior, which could be used in the future for tasks like elderly or childcare (because that always goes so well):

Opening quote
"We're looking at the personality of a robot, and asking how we can bring that in line with what people will accept from a companion robot," John Murray, a principal lecturer at the University of Lincoln's School of Computer Science, told Motherboard. "Humans forget names, things, and appointments so we were seeing if a robot with those kinds of traits would be more appealing to people, and the initial results from the research suggests that it is."
Closing quote

The idea of giving robots personalities is certainly not a new one; the trope is nearly ubiquitous in science fiction, and there's a chance that we want endearing robots who make flubs because they remind us of Wall-E. But, according to the researchers, this is likely a very innate reaction, similar to the uncanny valley, and as a result it is a problem that needs to be solved in order to create effective companion robots.

Opening quote
"The human perception of robots is often affected by science fiction; however there is a very real conflict between this perception of superior and distant robots, and the aim of human-robot interaction researchers. A companion robot needs to be friendly and have the ability to recognise users' emotions and needs, and act accordingly. Despite this, robots used in previous research have lacked human characteristics so that users cannot relate - how can we interact with something that is more perfect than we are? As long as a robot can show imperfections which are similar to those of humans during their interactions, we are confident that long-term human-robot relations can be developed."
Closing quote

Science
Technology
Artificial Intelligence
Robotics

Load Comments