Previous research has shown that people treat robots as social beings, whether that’s by being polite to them or displaying gender stereotypes toward computers with stereotypically “masculine” or “feminine” voices. This takes it a step further: children can be actively swayed by robots when making decisions.
From Alexa and Siri to robot toys, robots are becoming increasingly integrated into our daily lives, and the daily lives of our kids. In particular, we ought to be thinking about the effects of this conformity has on young children. (One caveat: it’s not immediately clear to me that conformity is all bad all of the time —a robot could, say, encourage young children brush their teeth twice a day?)
The researchers are also thinking through the repercussions. “A discussion is required about whether protective measures, such as a regulatory framework, should be in place that minimize the risk to children during social child-robot interaction,”
the researchers note. In an interview with Motherboard
, Vollmer suggested that this could be similar to the framework already in place for advertisements aimed at children.
The genie is out of the bottle as far as robots in the home go — pick a household appliance, and there’s an internet-connected version of it. It’s no longer a question of if we interact with them, but how.
Bonus round: more questions than answers
As with most studies, Vollmer and co. raise more questions than they answer. Here are some questions I’ve been noodling on since I read the news on Wednesday:
- Why weren’t the adults swayed? Is it because the robots were small and cute? I’d love to see the experiment repeated with adult-size robots.
- Are there better examples of “positive conformity” than my tooth-brushing example?
- What specific robot behavior induces conformity?
Answers on a postcard (or just an email reply).
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