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Exploring the Abuse of Robots

Christoph Bartneck and Jun Hu

Abstract: Robots have been introduced into our society, but their social role is still unclear. A critical issue is whether the robot’s exhibition of intelligent behaviour leads to the users’ perception of the robot as being a social actor, similar to the way in which people treat computers and media as social actors. The first experiment mimicked Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiment, but on a robot. The participants were asked to administer electric shocks to a robot, and the results show that people have fewer concerns about abusing robots than about abusing other people. We refined the methodology for the second experiment by intensifying the social dilemma of the users. The participants were asked to kill the robot. In this experiment, the intelligence of the robot and the gender of the participants were the independent variables, and the users’ destructive behaviour towards the robot the dependent variable. Several practical and methodological problems compromised the acquired data, but we can conclude that the robot’s intelligence had a significant influence on the users’ destructive behaviour. We discuss the encountered problems and suggest improvements. We also speculate on whether the users’ perception of the robot as being “sort of alive” may have influenced the participants’ abusive behaviour.

Keywords: robots, perceived intelligence, killing, abuse

C. Bartneck, and J. Hu, “Exploring the Abuse of Robots,” Interaction Studies – Social Behaviour and Communication in Biological and Artificial Systems, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 415-433, 2008.
DOI: 10.1075/is.9.3.04bar