Can robots influence humans?

Last updated 08:33 25/03/2014
Jurgen and his robots

COPY CAT: PhD student J├╝rgen Brandstetter is testing whether humans ca be influenced by robots.

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If a robot told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?

Research from the University of Canterbury shows humans can be influenced by robots.

In an experiment carried out by PhD student Jürgen Brandstetter, robots were able to persuade people to conform.

Brandstetter took a group of 50 people and split the group in half - 25 interacted with robots, 25 with other humans.

The tests were simple.

In the first instance, four lines were laid out. Test subjects had to decide which two lines were the same length. In the second test, the lines were closer together.

Brandstetter said the test was a common one. Humans typically find it difficult to select lines of the same length. The closer they are together, the more difficult it is.

The next experiment was language-based. Test subjects were asked to identify the correct past tense of words in the English language. Some were obvious, others were more difficult and based on mistakes we make every day - for example, swim, swam, swum.

Each participant completed the test separately.

Branstetter said the test results showed the participants could be influenced by robots. While humans were more likely to be influenced by other humans, robots still had some sway.

The robots would choose the wrong answer to the question. Despite probably knowing it was wrong, some test subjects changed their answer to match that of the robot.

"It's peer pressure," Brandstetter said. "Especially when it comes to language, humans are more likely to conform. If you don't conform, no- one can understand you."

If the test was harder, participants were more likely to be influenced.

Brandstetter said the world was heading towards further involvement from robots.

While this experiment only tested influence on verbal and visual skills, the next step was to see if robots could alter human opinion.

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