Some researchers decided to figure out how kids viewed friendly robots – are they people? animals? things? some new thing in between?
The session involves a game of “I Spy,” a guessing game where Robovie gives the child verbal clues to help them locate objects around the room. After the game is finished, Robovie asks for a hug, which is another one of those bonding moments, and then the game is played again, this time with the child giving clues and Robovie guessing the objects. Here’s where things get interesting: in the middle of this phase of the game, an adult experimenter enters the lab and cuts the game short with some consequences for Robovie.
Overall, 80 percent of the participants felt that Robovie was intelligent, and 60 percent thought that Robovie had feelings. At the same time, over 80 percent believed that it was just fine for people to own and sell Robovie. Hmm. Only 50 percent of the children felt that it was not all right to put Robovie in the closet, although close to 90 percent agreed with Robovie that it wasn’t fair to put it in the closet and it should have been allowed to at least finish the game it was playing.
Mentally, I know that the robot is just a thing – I even know that there’s a person controlling it. Still, it’s disconcerting to force something into a closet while it’s actively asking you not to. It has to be worse for kids, who are used to anthropormophocizing their completely inanimate toys.
Even more, including a video of Robovie and a teenager, over at IEEE Spectrum: Do Kids Care If Their Robot Friend Gets Stuffed Into a Closet?