There is a growing market of interactive robots that provide humans with companionship and help. They even take up typically human roles such as security guards and receptionists. As robots become more and more humanised, where do we draw the line in our relationships with the robots? Is compassion for robots overshadowing human interaction and true sentience? Studies have established that we are easily drawn in by the simulation of social cues and human traits exhibited by machines. A recent experiment carried out by German researchers from the University of Duisburg-Essen shows that the simulated cries of a robot can emotionally manipulate people to such an extent that they will refuse to switch them off.
The study consisted of 89 volunteers, all of whom were required to complete two tasks with the help of a small anthropomorphic robot called NAO. These tasks included asking NAO questions and organising a weekly timetable. The volunteers were told that the tasks were designed to improve NAOs learning algorithms, but in actuality, the real test was how capable the participants would be at switching the robot off as it begged them not to. In approximately 50% of experiments, the robot begged for its life, saying to the volunteers that it was afraid of the dark. When NAO desperately asked for mercy, the human volunteers were likely to decide they could not switch off the robot. Of the 43 participants who heard NAO’s pleas for its life, about 30% of them could not bring themselves to switch NAO off and refused to do so. The remaining 30 people participating in the study took twice as long to agree to turn NAO off compared to those who did not witness NAO’s begging.
Those who refused to switch NAO off had an array of reasons when asked why. A

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