A recent Stanford University study that saw researchers building on the idea of the “uncanny valley” has turned up some surprising results.
The uncanny valley hypothesis describes the U-shaped relationship between how “human” a robot looks, and how comfortably humans receive them. The theory suggests that for a “familiar but distinctly non-human robot,” a natural human response would be “to look at them as a friendly, non-threatening computer,” according to the study’s press release.
Stanford researchers took the concept one step further, asking if these robots could provoke a stronger emotional response than friendliness in humans, such as physiological arousal (in layman’s terms: Can humans get turned on by robots?)
To answer this question, researchers Jamy Li, Wendy Ju, and Byron Reeves used Aldebaran Robotics’ NAO human-shaped robot, whose appearance the release describes as a cross between “C-3PO and Wall-E.”
The humanoid robot was programmed to verbally instruct participants to touch 13 parts of its body — ranging from the neck to the feet — and participants were fitted with a sensor on the fingers of their non-dominant hand to measure physiological arousal and reaction time.
Results showed that when participants touched the robot in intimate areas — such as the buttocks — they were more emotionally aroused than when they touched non-intimate areas like the neck and hands. Indeed, the researchers’ findings seem to suggest that people can, indeed, be “turned on” by a robot.
“Our work shows that robots are a new form of media that is particularly powerful. It shows that people respond to robots in a primitive, social way,” said Li.
“Social conventions regarding touching someone else’s private parts apply to a robot’s body parts as well. This research has implications for both robot design and theory of artificial systems.”
While groundbreaking — at present not much is known about the power of touch between a robot and a human — researchers have mixed feelings about their findings.
“Social robots can elicit tactile responses in human physiology, a result that signals the power of robots, and should caution mechanical and interaction designers about positive and negative effects of human-robot interactions,” the researchers said.
Next, read about the robots that may soon take over your job.