At 18 months old, babies have begun to make conscious delineations between sentient beings and inanimate objects. But as robots get more and more advanced, those decisions may become harder to make. What causes a baby to decide a robot is more than bits of metal? As it turns out, it takes more than humanoid looks--babies rely on social interaction to make that call.
A study at the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences took a sample of 64 18-month-old babies, who were all tested individually. The experimental test had the babies sit on their parents' laps, facing a remote-controlled humanoid robot. Sitting next to the robot was Rechele Brooks, one of the researchers on the study. Brooks and the robot (controlled remotely by an unseen researcher) would then engage in a 90-second skit, in which Brooks interacted with the robot as if it was a child, asking questions like "Where is your tummy?" and "Where is your head?" The robot would in turn point to its different parts. The robot would also imitate a few arm movements, like waving back and forth.
The babies who watched this skit looked back and forth between the robot and Brooks as if "at a ping-pong match," said Brooks. After the skit, Brooks left the room, leaving the baby and the robot alone (well, along with the baby's parent--this probably isn't a punching or stabbing robot, but there's no harm in being extra safe). The robot would then beep and shift slightly to get the baby's attention, and then turn to look at a nearby toy.
In 13 out of 16 cases, the baby would follow the robot's gaze, suggesting that the baby sees the robot as a sentient being, that what the robot looks at might be of interest to the baby as well. Babies at that age distinguish between, say, a swivel chair's movement and a person's movement, and will only follow the person. But in following the robot, the study suggests that the baby has decided that robot is a human being.
The control experiment is very similar, except the 90-second skit is omitted. The baby is familiarized with the robot, but does not see it interact with a third party. In this situation, the baby only followed the robot's line of sight in three out of 16 instances, which is a big enough difference to suggest that socialization plays a major part in the baby's decision to treat a robot like a being.
It's a really interesting idea: What makes a baby decide that something is a being is not necessarily that thing's visual similarity to a person. Appearance isn't everything--babies recognize the ability to interact socially as a human trait. From the mouths of babes, sort of.
This is the same thing with adults, even scientists, trying to define what makes a machine intelligent. Since we do not fully understand the meaning of "sentience" or "intelligence", we design tests like the Turing, which is basically "well, if it acts human, its intelligent."
This seems like a bit of a stretch. If I saw a robot interacting with something, then saw it looking at something, I would look at what it was looking at too. (Full disclosure: I am older than 18 months.) Understanding that it interacts with the environment is a far cry from believing it is human, but that interaction cues us in to think it might be looking at something.
i would want to see what the robot was seeing too, it might be something that you'd probably never notice otherwise...
Agree with paulcrosoft and V3RTIGO. The logical gap between this study and the title of this article is unacceptable.
When a baby discovers that a robot can sense its surroundings visually, the baby becomes curious to see for itself what the robot is sensing. That's it, no connection to the robot being human.
When your dog suddenly starts barking, which of the following questions enters your mind?
A) What has my dog noticed that I have not?
B) Is my dog human?
Agreed. All that they proved is that they can fool a baby into thinking that a robot is alive.
We are preprogramed to follow the perceptions of everything arround us. Look up sometime in a crowded mall and see how many other people look up to see what you are looking at.
We do the same thing with companion animals, as already mentioned about dogs.
Replace the robot with a well trained dog and see if you get the same results (you will). Assuming, of course, that your sample size is sufficient (16? - really).
@Silverjeff - It's interesting that you bring up that point. I'm often involved with going to peoples homes to contact them. People often try to hide. Whenever there is a home with a Dog (barking of course), I observe their dogs behavior for clues if the owner is still home. For example, if a Dog repeatedly barks and then stops to look in another direction then that is a hint that the Dog is waiting (from someone just outside of view) to proceed with barking. At those moments, it's safe to assume someone IS home.
The study in the article should really be pointing out that our OWN human nature to go off the cues of others to gather information on our environment. If you observe your environment, it's easy to tell what is important and what is not important (either gathered from something alive or not). This is just one of the ways we as humans gather information - of the cues of our environment.
I think it's more accurate to say that the baby recognized the robot as a sentient object, not necessarily as a human.
Like a couple of you have said you could probably insert a midget or a dog or a tapdancing orangutan and the baby would get the point.
However, unlike the dog or the tapdancing orangutan the robot is in fact not alive yet the babies seem to recognize the robot's "head" and knows to follow its "gaze."
Is this useful to science though? Heckifino.
I would agree, this does not conclude that baby thinks a robot is human. Many babies follow remote controlled cars; they are just curious about almost everything.
I think the most accurate thing to say is that the baby is -treating- it as if it were alive, not that the baby 'believes its alive'. You cant ascribe any beliefs to the baby. The baby doesn't even have any concept of what life or sentience is, he just knows that there are things in the world that -act- alive.
Its as if an adult saw a robot that was advanced enough to appear as if it might be alive to them. They wouldn't know whether it was or not, but they would interact with it as if it was, just out of the assumption that if it acted like it was alive in one way, it would probably act like it in other ways. People today know enough about computer technology and have read enough sci-fi that you'd be more likely to find skeptics though.
This skit proves that babies don't know what remote controls are. Nothing else.
some of you seem to have forgotten the robot acted like a human does, not a dog- we don't always look at what a dog looks at ( i have dogs roaming around the house, i notice what they are up to but do not always look at what they are currently engaged with)- but when a dogs barks they obviously get our attention- the robot did nothing unusual to attract the babies attention- interesting study, more research is obviously needed before making the jump to a baby thinking the robot is human- alot of people put too much stock in the titles of stories- they are used to attract your attention- the researchers refer to a sentient being, not a human
The babies are wise to follow the robot's lead. It is you adult meatbags that are the fools!
@TwoPynts- lol- i have sent a link of you to the robopolice- your days are numbered,little-bot...mwhahahahahahah!
Thank you, Mr. Shapiro. Exactly what I was thinking. Further, considering the difference in real-world experiential knowledge between an adult and an 18-month old infant, any assumptions are shaky.
Personally, I'd like to know how a dog reacts to the robot under differing situations.
This study somehow reminds me of TV shows that use hand puppets. When a hand puppet "converses" with people, including adults, I've noticed that most people actually engage the hand puppet in conversation, even though and despite the fact that it's attached to a person who is of course the real source of the voice.
<i>My Tachyonic Auntie Persephone</i>
They forgot to mention the requirements of the study. The Babies needed:
1-Full comprehensive reading, writing, and listening skills
2-Complete a short thesis on the characteristics they believe comprise "humanity."
3-Be potty trained.
Therefore, out of the 1000's of babies they interviewed, only 64 qualified. 40% of those babies who qualified said they were planning a career in cybernetics (at least, that's what the researchers said).
"The robot would then beep and shift slightly to get the baby's attention, and then turn to look at a nearby toy."
Pretty sure a robot beeping is roughly equivalent to a dog barking. Just sayin'.
Honestly, even if it was my robot, not my dog, making noises or "looking" at something, I would look too. I would know my robot is not human but that would not even cross my mind if I, hypothetically, saw my robot looking at something, I would look to.
Maybe when the baby saw the interaction with the third party the baby felt it can be trusted and was another thing it could observe and find interest in...but theyre still young they look at everything with interest