Do People Prefer Humanoid Robots?

Would people rather interact with robots that looked like people - humanoid robots - or would they be indifferent to the shape of the robot?

A recent study titled Can Machines Think? Interaction and Perspective Taking with Robots Investigated via fMRI done in Europe sought to answer this question by testing people in their interactions with different robot types.


(Usuform versus humanoid robot)

By means of functional magnetic resonance imaging (subjects n = 20) we investigated cortical activity modulation during highly interactive human-robot game. Increasing degrees of human-likeness for the game partner were introduced by means of a computer partner, a functional robot, an anthropomorphic robot and a human partner.

Irrespective of the surmised interaction partners' responses participants indicated having experienced more fun and competition in the interaction with increasing human-like features of their partners...

The results demonstrate that the tendency to build a model of another's mind linearly increases with its perceived human-likeness. Moreover, the present data provides first evidence of a contribution of higher human cognitive functions such as ToM in direct interactions with artificial robots.

There is an interesting discussion of this same question in Anthony Boucher's 1943 story Q.U.R. In this terrific story, every robot is fully humanoid in appearance. In response to shortages in resources, a different kind of robot is proposed: the usuform robot, designed along strictly functional lines.

"Almost every robot, except perhaps a few like farmhands, does only one or two things and does those things constantly. All right. Shape them so that they can best do just those things, with no parts left over. give them a brain, eyes and ears to receive commands, and whatever [sensory] organs they need to do their work...

That's the source of your whole robot epidemic. They were all burdened down with things they didn't need...

"But this can't be done overnight. People are used to android robots... They'll be scared of your unhuman-looking contraptions... Give'em a name. A good name... Keep 'robots' thats common domain... I've got it. Usuform. Quinby's Usuform Robots. Q.U.R."
(Read more about Boucher's usuform robots)

It's interesting to note that in 1943, Boucher was already thinking about how the shape of a robot would affect how people interacted with it.

From Can Machines Think? Interaction and Perspective Taking with Robots Investigated via fMRI via Our Brains Attribute Human Qualities to Humanoid Machines.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/11/2008)

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