Robot designers commonly emphasize humanlikeness as an important design feature to make robots social or user-friendly. To understand how users make sense of the design characteristics of robots, we asked 6 participants to classify and interpret the appearance of existing robots in relation to their function and potential usefulness. All the robots had humanlike aspects in their design, and participants most commonly remarked on these humanlike features of the robots. However, the commonsense logic of the “Uncanny Valley” (UV) in HRI design, which suggests that robots should be similar to humans to some degree without being too humanlike, was not supported by participant comments, which did not correlate humanlikeness to user-friendliness in line with the UV hypothesis. Rather, participants related the design features of robots to their everyday contexts, and focused their commentary on context-dependent design implications. As a result, we suggest our understanding of the design characteristics of robots should include the perspectives of users from the earliest stages of design so we can understand their contextual interpretations of different design characteristics. Open and modularized technical platforms could support the inclusion of users in the creation of future social robots.
"The truck regarded them calmly, its receptors blank and impassive. It was doing its job. The planet-wide network of automatic factories was smoothly performing the task imposed on it five years before, in the early days of the Total Global Conflict." Written by famous and farsighted Phillip K. Dick in 1955, his central characters, three human survivors of the War, fight these factories and finally succeed in regaining control by eventually turning them against each other and thus making them destroying themselves.
As our dependence on technology builds and the privacy-destroying, brain-hacking consequences of that start to come to light, we are seeing the return of a science-fiction trope: the rise of the robots. A new wave of television shows, films and video games is grappling with the question of what will happen if we develop the technology to create machines in our own image. Westworld posits that if we could develop realistic androids, we would want to rape and murder them for fun. In Blade Runner 2049, they have replaced humans as sex workers and manual labourers. In the recently released video game Detroit: Become Human, androids are nannies, carers and even pop stars, omnipresent in the home and in city life.
Everybody knows that anthropomorphic robots that try to look and act like people are creepy. There's been a bunch of research into just what it is about such androids that we don't like (watch the video below to get an idea of what we're talking about), and many researchers think that we get uncomfortable when we begin to lose the ability to confidently distinguish between what's human and what's not. This is why zombies are often placed at the very bottom of the Uncanny Valley: in many respects, they directly straddle that line, which is why they freak us out so much. Most of the time, robots (even the weird ones) don't end up way down there with the zombies, because they're usually a lot more obviously not human. The tricky part about robots, however, is that they can manifest "human-ness" in ways that are more than just physical.
Engineers are studying human behaviour in great detail in order to make robots that not only look like us, but can also understand us and interact with us in socially acceptable ways. These studies are teaching us many things about our own human nature, as my recent paper explains. The robots in films like Blade Runner are very humanlike, with thoughts and feelings, motives and desires. But making robots that are just like us is a huge challenge. Technical limitations make it currently impossible to make robots identical to humans, although Hiroshi Ishiguru has made a geminoid (a humanlike robot that looks like himself), and David Hanson has made a number of impressive android heads.