Why robots are different from other technologies?

On the one side, interacting with a social robot is seen as fundamentally different from interacting with other technical devices, such as a PC or a coffee brewer. On the other side, interactions with robots can also not be treated the same way as interacting with other people. Although the challenge of building autonomous robots that interact with people may share some issues with the design of computer interfaces, robots and computers are profoundly different technologies in important ways for the following reasons [1]:

  • As robots share our physical environment, people will encounter frequent and long-term interaction over an extended period of time, potentially years. Encounters with domestic robots will happen on a daily basis, unintentionally or intentionally by the user or the robot. Although mobile phones or computers also call for attention, this is not quite the same as with robots.
  • Robots are not only physically embodied but able to move in the same space as people and manipulate many of the same objects. Physical contact with robots offers interesting benefits in the interaction but also poses challenges and risks.
  • People are extremely perceptive to eye contact and gaze cues. Robots can utilize a person’s sense of being engaged by establishing and maintaining “eye contact“, much more compelling than a virtual avatar on a flat screen.
  • Robots can not be prepared to all possible challenges of everyday life. Therefore, robots need the ability to adapt to and learn in our dynamic, unpredictable, and uncertain everyday environment. Still, robots have to perform tasks and make decisions based on imperfect or partial knowledge and information.
  • Robots do not have a clean division between the “interface program“ and the “application program“. The interface is the observable behavior that allows the robot to interact with the physical world and e.g. manipulate objects, socially engage with people, or deal with self-maintenance tasks.

People readily attribute lifelike qualities to robots and tend to treat robots similar to how they treat other living objects, which makes the robot an active physical and social player in our everyday world [2]. Focusing on the social interaction between people and robots, Young et al. give the following reasons for why robots are unique compared to other technologies:

  • People anthropomorphize robots more than other technologies and give robots qualities known from animals or other humans.
  • People apply social rules to robots to an extent that is different from other computational technologies. Robots therefore elicit a unique sense of agency.
  • The robot’s physical-world embeddedness and socially situated context of interaction generates a strong sense of “active agency“.
  • Robots actively respond to people’s affection as a physical and social actor, directly embedded in people’s real-world physical environments.
  • Even simple robots engage in some social interaction, such that people develop strong affective and emotional attachment to robots.

Peoples have a tendency to attribute human characteristics to social robots more than to other technologies. A robot’s anthropomorphic physical design and behavior can be used as a tool to facilitate interaction between people and robots. However, a gap between people’s expectations and the machines capabilities easily leads to users over-expectations and disappointments. Research shows that robots will be more acceptable to humans if they are built in their own image [3].

  1. Breazeal, C., Social interactions in HRI: the robot view. IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics, 2004. 34(2): p. 181-186.
  2. Young, J.E., et al., Evaluating human-robot interaction. International Journal of Social Robotics, 2011. 3(1): p. 53-67.
  3. Duffy, B.R., Anthropomorphism and the social robot. Robotics and autonomous systems, 2003. 42(3): p. 177-190.

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