This is the substructure of a face for a Real Doll in the factory at Abyss Creations on Tuesday in San Marcos, California

“My name is GroBOR” says the robot, stacking hamburgers on buns. These are the wave of AI embedded workers. They don’t look or sound quite human… yet. And many are frightened of what it will mean for american jobs like hamburger maker, and receptionist.

“In truth, those jobs need to be done by robots, they are menial and not productive” says Terry McDin, founder of HelperBot, a San Dioego based robot research center.

“We like to make our customers happy in all ways” he says smiling.

“Grobor Out of Buns… What GroBor do?” the robot says spinning in circles angrily with a knife.

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In a recent paper in the International Journal of Social Robotics, “Blurring Human–Machine Distinctions: Anthropomorphic Appearance in Social Robots as a Threat to Human Distinctiveness,” Francesco Ferrari and Maria Paola Paladino from the University of Trento, in Italy, and Jolanda Jetten from the University of Queensland, in Australia, argue that what humans don’t like about anthropomorphic robots is fundamentally about a perceived incursion on human uniqueness. If true, it’s going to make the job of social robots much, much harder.

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“Grobor Out of Buns” “What Grobor do?”

Over the last several years, when surveys have asked people (in Europe and Japan) about how they feel about robots in their lives, along with a positive perception of robots in general there was a significant amount of resistance to the idea of anthropomorphic robots doing things like teaching children or taking care of the elderly. Since social robots are intended for roles like these, it’s important to understand what the root of these feelings are, as the researchers explain:

Why do people fear that the introduction of social robots will have such a negative impact on humans and their identity? Answering this question would enable us to understand the reasons for resistance to this technological innovation. This would be important because the widespread use of social robots in society at large is only possible when psychological barriers to the introduction of robots in our lives have been removed.

Specifically, social robots, because they are designed to resemble human beings, might threaten the distinctiveness of the human category. According to this threat to distinctiveness hypothesis, too much perceived similarity between social robots and humans triggers concerns because similarity blurs the boundaries between humans and machines and this is perceived as damaging humans, as a group, and as altering the human identity.

We expect that for humans, the thought that androids would become part of our everyday life should be perceived as a threat to human identity because this should be perceived as undermining the distinction between humans and mechanical agents. Given the economic investment in the development of social robots and the likelihood that social robots will increasingly become part of everyday life, it is important to understand the reasons why people fear and resist this development.

To test their hypotheses, the researchers showed a group of people a series of pictures of non-human (“mechanical”) robots, humanoid robots, and androids (like Geminoid DK, pictured below), while asking them about perceived potential damage of the robot to human essence and identity, as well as how much agency they perceived in the robot. Predictably, nobody liked the androids much: the results suggested “a linear pattern for the increase of robots’ anthropomorphic appearance, undermining human–machine distinctiveness and perceived damage to humans and their identity. Robot human-likeness directly increases the perception of robot as a source of danger to humans and their identity: the more the robot’s appearance resembles that of a real person, the more the boundaries between humans and machines are perceived to be blurred. These findings are consistent with the idea that worries and concerns about the impact on human identity of highly human-like social robots are related to the fact that these robots look so similar to humans that they can be mistaken to be one of us.” In short, anthropomorphic robots undermine our sense of being human, which is why we don’t like them.

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Don’t worry Grobor, we will find a place for you.

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