On February 23, 2022, Dr. Christoph Bartneck and Mr. Dwain Allan delivered an enlightening presentation on Perceived Threat of Robots at the 19th Session of IEAI Virtual Speaker Series.

Considering the increased public awareness of robots entering many areas of daily life and the expectations of machines taking over many tasks in our society, their discussion was incredibly timely. Understanding the nuances of people´s perceptions and fears about social robots is increasingly important to further development in the field of Human-Robot interaction.

Two studies were presented examining how people respond to the perceived threat of the superiority of robots. In the first study, the investigation focused on the role of people´s implicit self-theory orientation and how it can influence the percieved threat of emerging social robots developed for everyday use. People either perceive their attributes to be malleable (incremental theory) or unchangeable (entity theory). The study shows that people who view self-attributes as fixed (entity theorists) express greater robot anxiety especially regarding to jobs and employment than those who view self-attributes as malleable (incremental theorists).

The second study focused on a different kind of threats, such as physical abuse, towards robots. The study conducted an experiment by using a motion capture video, where a human actor is being “abused” by another human and their movements are mapped and later replaced with a robot. Such footage was very useful for investigating the question of whether abuse against humans or robots has different moral acceptance levels because the different video scenarios were identical except for the victim (robot vs. human). Moreover, by showing scenarios where the robot or human “fights back” or not, the study was also able to respond to the question about different moral acceptance levels based on victim type and whether there is retaliation.

Interestingly, the results showed that the moral acceptability of the abusive behaviors was equal for humans and robots. However, the results also showed that the perceived threat of the robot (vs. the human) increases if the robot “fights back”. Dr. Bartneck and Mr. Allen followed with an insightful discussion and question period, underscoring that these studies are fundamental to delineating the appropriate behaviors and interactions as intelligence machines entering many areas of daily life.

Christoph Bartneck & Dwain Allan | February 23rd, 2022