Humans may prefer to work with robots that can communicate and express emotions, even if that means they’re less efficient, according to a new study from University College London and the University of Bristol.
Researchers tested how people reacted when robots messed up a given task. They had participants work with three different versions (A, B and C) of the same robot, BERT2. Each would bring the humans ingredients to make an omelet: BERT A never erred, but BERT B and C both dropped an egg at some point.
Only BERT C could communicate with the humans and say “I’m sorry.” It would also be visibly dismayed at the mistake, with an exaggerated look of sadness displayed on its face. BERT C would then show that it was going to try a different approach to the task, thereby rectifying the mistake.
The participants appreciated the transparency and semblance of control. One was quoted in the paper as saying that the vocal interaction with BERT C kept him from wondering what would happen next.
“It also let me know when he realized that he had dropped the egg,” the participant said. “With the non-vocal machines there is a nervousness about when I should be holding out my hand, etc.”
People also reported that C took the least amount of time to complete the omelet-making task, even though A was actually the fastest. But the participants said that A “seemed slower” or “quite slow.”
Again, trust played a big role in evaluating the robots. Overall, more people said they’d use BERT C for a work-related task over the other robots.
The researchers noted, however, that we lack large-scale, long-term data on these concepts, and the paper itself has not yet been peer-reviewed. Still, the researchers were optimistic about their findings.
“I think that BERT’s cartoon-like visage was something people responded very well to, the fact that it/he was just human-like enough without seeming creepy or threatening,” Researcher Adriana Hamacher wrote to Mashable in an email. “[The study] drives home the fact that people respond well to robots that react and behave as human beings do.”
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