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New Study Shows Humans Feel Empathy for Robots

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The humans on the television show Battlestar Galactica experience conflicting feelings when dealing with the humanoid Cylons. While some find it easy to torture the machines even though they resemble humans, many cringe at the thought of terrorizing the Cylons. It turns out the writers got this right—humans empathize with robots as much as they empathize with other people.

Astrid Rosenthal-von der Pütten, from the University of Duisburg Essen in Germany, began thinking about how humans relate to robots after a discussion about a YouTube video where people destroy a dinosaur robot. While she watched the video she experienced conflicting emotions: The video amused her, but she also felt bad for the dinosaur. She wondered if other people felt this way, too—and decided to do some research to find out.

She and her colleagues conducted two studies. In the first, 40 participants watched videos where a person either acts affectionately to a robot that looks like baby camarasaurus or attacks it. When the person kicked, strangled, punched, or dropped the robot, it cried, choked, or coughed. The researchers monitored the subjects as they watched the videos with a physiological monitoring device, which basically tracks how much someone sweats. The more stressed out we are, the more we sweat. The participants also answered questions about how they felt when they watched the person "hurt" the robot. The subjects sweated more and reported feeling badly about the camarasaurus’ plight.

In the second study, the researchers asked people to watch videos of a robot dinosaur and humans while an fMRI machine imaged the subjects’ brains to see how they processed it. The videos featured a woman or a robot in a positive situation—being stroked or tickled—or a negative one—being beaten and choked. The fMRI scans showed that when people watched robots and humans being abused the brain acted the same, which leads them to conclude that people feel empathy for robots. 

“[W]e did not find large differences in brain activation when comparing the human and robot stimuli. Even though we assumed that the robot stimuli would trigger emotional processing, we expected these processes to be considerably weaker than for human stimuli. It seems that both stimuli undergo the same emotional processing,” writes Rosenthal-von der Pütten.

She will present her findings at the International Communication Association Conference in London this June.

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The Simple Optical Illusion That Makes an Image Look Like It's Drawing Itself
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Artist James Nolan Gandy invents robot arms that sketch intricate mathematical shapes with pen and paper. When viewed in real time, the effect is impressive. But it becomes even more so when the videos are sped up in a timelapse. If you look closely in the video below, the illustration appears to materialize faster than the robot can put the design to paper. Gizmodo recently explained how the illusion works to make it look like parts of the sketch are forming before the machine has time to draw them.

The optical illusion isn’t an example of tricky image editing: It’s the result of something called the wagon wheel effect. You can observe this in a car wheel accelerating down the highway or in propeller blades lifting up a helicopter. If an object makes enough rotations per second, it can appear to slow down, move backwards, or even stand still.

This is especially apparent on film. Every “moving image” we see on a screen is an illusion caused by the brain filling in the gaps between a sequence of still images. In the case of the timelapse video below, the camera captured the right amount of images, in the right order, to depict the pen as moving more slowly than it did in real life. But unlike the pen, the drawing formed throughout the video isn't subject to the wagon-wheel effect, so it still appears to move at full speed. This difference makes it look like the sketch is drawing itself, no pen required.

Gandy frequently shares behind-the-scenes videos of his mechanical art on his Instagram page. You can check out some of his non-timelapse clips like the one below to better understand how his machines work, then visit his website to browse and purchase the art made by his 'bots.

And if you think his stuff is impressive, make sure to explore some of the incredible art robots have made in the past.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Hiroshi Ishiguro Lab, YouTube
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The Next Job Being Taken Over by Robots? TV News Anchor
Hiroshi Ishiguro Lab, YouTube
Hiroshi Ishiguro Lab, YouTube

The robots will come for all of our jobs one day, whether you’re a factory worker or a surgeon. In Japan, that reality now seems to be coming for television news anchors. According to Live Science and The Wall Street Journal, a humanoid robot named Erica is on the cusp of her debut on TV news.

Erica, who was originally built to work as a receptionist, was created at Osaka University’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratory and has been called the “the most life-like (and creepiest) robot ever built.” Right now, it seems her career will reach far beyond working a reception desk. Osaka University's Hiroshi Ishiguro, who calls himself the robot’s “father,” told The Wall Street Journal that she will make her television debut sometime in 2018, with the paper saying it will likely happen in April.

Designed to look like a 23-year-old woman, she has shockingly realistic-looking skin and facial expressions. Her speech, tinged with an English accent, is a little stilted, but her responses to questions largely sound pretty natural. She can also tell jokes that are just as groan-worthy as the ones that fly back and forth during the banter between news anchors.

She can’t walk around the room by herself, but she can sit behind a desk and move her neck, shoulders, and waist autonomously. She has depth sensors to help her sense where people are standing in a room and can recognize which direction sound is coming from, turning to face someone speaking to her. She’s also equipped with face-recognition technology.

Considering that The Washington Post already has a robot news reporter that writes stories and tweets, getting a robot to recite a script in front of a camera seems fairly easy. All she has to do is sit there and read the news. But Erica’s lifelike demeanor may make her a more capable on-air personality than we can imagine right now. It might not be long before she wins her first broadcast journalism award.

[h/t Live Science]

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