There is a new interdisciplinary field of research called Human-Robot Interaction or H.R.I., where scientists study factors that will make robots more endearing to humans. As robots are created to be better caretakers, maids and emergency responders, the line between useful tool and “being” becomes blurred. For some people a robot companion is wonderful. For others, placing “emotional” qualities in a machine might be potentially dangerous for humans.
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post With Answer Key.
Excerpt: How Robots Can Trick You Into Loving Them, By M. Koerth-Baker The New York Times
“ I like to think of my Roomba as cute and industrious. He makes noises while he cleans that make me feel as if he’s communicating with me.
Robosimian — a headless, quadrupedal disaster-response robot designed by engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory — is a bit more useful than my Roomba, slightly more human-looking and a lot less cute: the C-3PO to my R2-D2. Robosimian can maneuver over rubble and through narrow corridors in order to, one day, rescue humans from peril. But its more difficult task will be forming some sort of bond with the E.M.T.’s and first responders who might use it. Robosimian will be more than just a tool, but not quite a colleague.
In the future, more robots will occupy that strange gray zone: doing not only jobs that humans can do but also jobs that require social grace. In the last decade, an interdisciplinary field of research called Human-Robot Interaction has arisen to study the factors that make robots work well with humans, and how humans view their robotic counterparts.
H.R.I. researchers have discovered some rather surprising things: a robot’s behavior can have a bigger impact on its relationship with humans than its design; many of the rules that govern human relationships apply equally well to human-robot relations; and people will read emotions and motivations into a robot’s behavior that far exceed the robot’s capabilities.
When a robot moves on its own, it exploits a fundamental social instinct that all humans have: the ability to separate things into objects (like rocks and trees) and agents (like a bug or another person). Its evolutionary importance seems self-evident; typically, kids can do this by the time they’re a year old.
The distinction runs deeper than knowing something is capable of movement. Nobody questions the motivations of a rock rolling down a hill, says Brian Scassellati, director of Yale’s social robotics lab. Agents, on the other hand, have internal states that we speculate about. The ability to distinguish between agents and objects is the basis for another important human skill that scientists call “cognitive empathy” (or “theory of mind,” depending on whom you ask): the ability to predict what other beings are thinking, and what they want, by watching how they move….if a robot and a human reach for the same object simultaneously, and the robot never hesitates or varies its speed, people think the robot is being rude. When the robot makes little jerky motions and slows down, according to Croft, people actually describe this disembodied arm as considerate — maybe even a little shy.
But this built-in gullibility has its downsides for robots, too. It’s relatively easy to program a robot with behaviors that arouse our cognitive empathy, but this can create a dissonance in expectations once people figure out it’s not as smart as it appears. A paper by David Feil-Seifer, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Nevada, Reno, briefly describes a study wherein a group of autistic children figured out that their new talking, moving robot pal really only had a limited number of phrases and behaviors in its repertory. They “became disappointed” — one child even stated that the robot was “learning-disabled.” (This shouldn’t be unfamiliar — consider the widespread derision and disappointment inspired by Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant.”) The other problem is more philosophical.
Our entire civilization is based on empathy,Sharlin told me. Societies are built on the principle that other entities have emotions.What happens when we start designing technologies specifically to exploit the very backbone of society? You get things like the Japanese-made therapeutic robot Paro — not smart, but programmed to manipulate us into treating them nicely.
Designed to look like a fluffy baby harp seal, Paro isn’t intelligent in the Isaac Asimov sense. But it seems incredibly sociable, capable of eliciting caregiving and affection from elderly people in nursing homes and hospitals…People treat Paro like a pet, or a baby — responses they’d never have to a Roomba, much less to Robosimian.
Unlike Paro, most of the “smart” tools that are part of our lives today aren’t fooling anyone. But that soon may change.
And like any story about robots — from “A.I.” to “Wall-E” — this is really about us, not the machines. Thanks to Human-Robot Interaction research, whatever social skills we program into robots in the future will be illusory and recursive: not intelligence, but human ingenuity put to use to exploit human credulity.By using technology to fool ourselves into thinking that technology is smart, we might put ourselves on the path to a confounding world, populated with objects that pit our instincts against our better judgment.” Read more…
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post
Level: Intermediate -Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video.
Objective: Students will read the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through discussions, and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Ask students to read the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Based on these sources, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
The K-W-L chart is used to activate students’ background knowledge of a topic in order to enhance their comprehension skills.
Directions: Have students use the KWL chart to list the information they already know about robots. Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic. Have students use this new K-W-L chart from ReadWriteThink.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary or thesaurus for assistance. They might find this vocabulary chart by Word Map Education Oasis useful as a guide.
- I like to think of my Roomba as cute and industrious.
- Robosimian is a headless, quadrupedal.
- Robosimian will be more than just a tool, but not quite a colleague.
- A group of autistic children figured out that their new robot pal had a limited number of phrases.
- You get things like the Japanese-made therapeutic robot Paro.
- Human ingenuity can cause problems sometimes.
- When a robot moves on its own, it exploits a fundamental social instinct that all humans have.
- Nobody questions the motivations of a rock rolling down a hill.
- Agents, on the other hand, have internal states that we speculate about.
- Cognitive empathy is the ability to predict what other beings are thinking by watching how they move.
Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- Robosimian is a robot made in Japan.
- H.R.I. stands for Human-Robot Interaction.
- Americans have more robots than Japan.
- In the future, more robots will occupy jobs that require sensitivity and grace.
- Robots are only being created to be caretakers.
- Robots are useful for all children as playmates.
- Paro is a robot made to resemble a baby panda.
- People usually treat Paro like a pet, or a baby.
- Wall-E was a robot for Wall Street.
- The average personal care-giver robot costs three hundred dollars.
Using Adjectives to describe pictures
Directions: Have students choose a picture from this lesson and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.
For a review ofAdjectives visit ESL Voices Grammar
III. Post Reading Tasks
Reading Comprehension Check
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
- The article states, “ H.R.I. researchers have discovered some rather surprising things: a robot’s behavior can have a bigger impact on its relationship with humans than its design.” Explain what this means in your own words.
- Give an example of people attributing emotions to a robot’s behavior that may far exceed the robot’s capabilities.
- In your opinion, is it a good idea to design robots to appear and act like humans? Provide reasons for your answer.
- If you could design your own robot, describe its capabilities.
IV. Listening Activity
Video Clip: Can We Fall In Love With Robots?
“Robots play a bigger role in our lives than ever before. They build things for us, and even help keep our soldiers safe on the battlefield. But are we getting too attached? Anthony explores what happens when human emotion and robots mix.”
While Listening Activities
Sentence Fill-ins -Multiple Choice
Directions: Students listen for the correct word or phrase to complete the sentences taken from the video. They are to choose from the options presented.
1. The word anthropomorphize means to
a. study animals.
b. assign human qualities to animals or objects.
c. study mankind.
2. Researchers think anthropomorphizing helps us feel
a. connected to things and gives us a feeling of control.
b. distant from things that frustrate us.
c. happy about our products.
3. When people anthropomorphize objects they feel
a. more overwhelmed.
c. less overwhelmed.
4. Robots are being built to behave like
a. b. bbbbthey are machines.
b. they have a mind of their own
c. they will conquer the world.
5. Studies have shown that the elderly, disable, and people with dementia can benefit from having robots in the house because
a. It makes them feel less isolated.
b. they can sell them later.
c. they will attract more friends.
6. The downside to anthropomorphizing is
a. the robots start to take control.
b. people become too close to the robots.
c. the robots begin to break down.
7. The example used to prove this fact was
a. soldiers in the field.
b. the elderly.
c. young children.
8. Soldiers began to view robots as
a. the enemy.
b. their friends.
c. their subordinates.
9. The concern was that forming an emotional bond with the robots might
a. influence a soldier’s decision making.
b. help the soldier to miss home.
c. make the soldier crazy.
10. Researchers are concerned about the change to robots resembling
b. other soldiers.
c. humanoids or animal-like creatures.
Questions for Discussion
- After listening to this video has your personal idea of robots behaving more like humans changed in any way? If yes, describe in what way. If no, describe your original opinion.
- Did you agree with everything the speaker said? Discuss which comments you agreed with and which ones you tended not to agree with. Explain why.
- With your group members, make up questions that you would like to ask the speaker.
ANSWER KEY: Loving Our Robots