Monday, March 24, 2014

Would you work for a robot?

A psychological experiment was carried out at the University of Manitoba.  It involved a robot.

One by one, a group of people were observed to see how well they would take instructions regarding the routine task of switching graphics files from jpeg to png extensions.  The instructor was either a male aged 27 or an Aldebaran Nao robot operating under the pseudonym "Jim."

As you might imagine from the brief description, the work was tedious and boring.  This was done to deliberately induce people to quit.  Both the robot and the human administrator would then employ various encouragements and pressures to keep the subject working.  The findings of the study were rather intriguing.

About half the people working with the robot continued the experiment to the end.  For the human instructor, 12 out of 14 remained until the end.  There were participants who argued with the robot and then left.  Yet there were also people who argued and then remained after the robot told them, "Please, we need more data.  It is essential that you continue."  I find the fact that a fair amount of people remained to work to be of great interest.

If you watch the video at the link, you'll see that the robot speaks in a melodic yet nearly emotionless voice to its subjects.  Is this evidence of a calm, neutral voice negating someone's freak out?  After all, if you're getting emotional, you likely desire a certain response from the person you're targeting.  If you're confronted with calm and logic, you might be more likely to subdue yourself in that you're not getting your desired response.  This might be a benefit to human-robot relationships in that their logic and demeanor might have a calming effect upon us.  Then again, this only worked in half of the test cases.

Of other interest from the study is the question, "What if what the robot is asking you to do is unethical?  Would you still do it?"

Aside from being a complex philosophical question, I really got a laugh out of the video's intro that speaks to this subject.  The Nao robot, wearing a tie of course, tells his unseen "staff" to "shred the files" because "the police are on their way." He ends the directive with the plea, "I'm too short to go to prison."

Robots have been replacing all manner of work roles.  The first ones to go are typically ones that are manual, repetitive, and tedious but that's not where things end.  All manner of work may be subject to robotic replacement and mine is no exception.  Just recently, the first news story on the minor earthquake in Los Angeles was filed by a robot with the designation, "Quakebot."  It is not unreasonable to think that even managerial level jobs are subject to replacement by robots (in fact, there's a few of us who might argue that it's already happened in the jesting sense.)

Would you work for a robot?  There is no doubt a gut reaction from many fussbudgets and Luddites, crying out "Hell no, I wouldn't!" If the U of Manitoba study is accurate, however, that reaction would only occur about half of the time.  Depending upon the task, I mean.  Another factor that needs to be considered is the economy. If you need a job and can get a paycheck from an outfit with robotic supervisors, you might change that gut reaction rather fast.

If you disagree, try unemployment and a bad credit rating for a while.  Then get back to me.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

No comments:

Post a Comment