Thursday, August 22, 2019
Tech

Studies: Human Biases Show Up in Robots

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New research shows humans’ biases extend to robots.

The study, “Robots And Racism,” conducted by the Human Interface Technology Laboratory in New Zealand, suggests people perceive physically human-like robots to have a race and therefore apply racial stereotypes to white and black robots.

“If robots are supposed to function as teachers, friends, or carers, for instance, then it will be a serious problem if all of these roles are only ever occupied by robots that are racialized as White,” according to the study.

Lead researcher Christoph Bartneck told CNN it is “amazing to see how people who had no prior interaction with robots show racial bias toward them.”

The robots used in the study are clearly robots but have human-like limbs and a head, with exterior complexions that are white/pinkish or black/deep brown. In the “shooter bias” test, black and white people and robots appeared on a screen for less than a second, and participants were told to “shoot” those holding a weapon. 

Black robots that were not holding weapons were shot more than the white ones not carrying guns.

“Imagine a world in which all Barbie dolls are white. Imagine a world in which all the robots working in Africa or India are white,” Barneck told CNN. “Further imagine that these robots take over roles that involve authority. Clearly, this would raise concerns about imperialism and white supremacy. Robots are not just machines, but they represent humans.”

In a second study, the HIT Lab NZ team added lighter brown robots, finding as they increased the racial diversity, participants’ racial bias toward the robots disappeared altogether.

“This leads me to believe that we have everything to win by offering racial options and nothing to lose,” Bartneck told CNN.


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