A new study shows that our subconscious minds are ready to see robots as social beings. The same study also illustrates the value of face-to-face interactions.
David DeSteno (Northeastern University), Cynthia Breazeal (MIT's Media Lab), Robert Frank (Cornell University), and David Pizarro (Cornell University) recently used a robot named Nexi to find out if you can trust someone you just met after only a few moments together.
The research team discovered that it's not a single cue that determines trustworthiness; it's many cues.
"Scientists haven't been able to unlock the cues to trust because they've been going about it the wrong way," DeSteno said. "There's no one golden-cue. Context and coordination of movements is what matters."
Using Nexi, the team had participants talk to the robot for 10 minutes, similar to an earlier experiment involving money and cheating when they spoke with other humans. The researchers controlled Nexi and had it express cues that were either trustworthy or non-trustworthy. Those participants who observed untrustworthy cues felt that Nexi was going to cheat on them in the monetary exercise and changed their decisions based on these cues.
"Certain nonverbal gestures trigger emotional reactions we're not consciously aware of, and these reactions are enormously important for understanding how interpersonal relationships develop," Frank said. "The fact that a robot can trigger the same reactions confirms the mechanistic nature of many of the forces that influence human interaction."
If we can program a robot to express cues of trustworthiness, and we react positively to those cues, then where does the line between robot and human get drawn?