Humans fear robots that look like them, according to professionals working in the field of robotics. GWS Robotics creative director David Graves, Alan Winfield, professor of robot ethics at the University of the West of England, and Joanna Bryson, associate professor in the department of computer science at the University of Bath, are among those who believe anthropomorphic bots spark fear -as well as fascination.
David, a Cambridge University graduate who has worked for multinational businesses, said: “There are many science fiction dramas where robots look like humans then take over the world. It plays into our fear that robots which are indistinguishable from humans are dangerous.”
GWS Robotics has invested in a humanoid robot called Pepper, which can be customised to individual business needs. While cute and somewhat childlike, it is clearly a robot.
Japanese researcher Masahiro Mori’s “uncanny valley” theory, which he developed in the 1970s, states that we react positively to robots if they have physical features familiar to us -but they disturb us if they start looking too much like us.
Professor Winfield said: “Robots are no more alive than your toaster. If people are led to think otherwise, they might become afraid of robots and could be exploited by unscrupulous manufacturers.”
But creators of human-like robots such as David Hanson, of Hanson Robotics, who have developed Sophia, argue human-like robots are an exploration of humanity. Sophia is the first robot to be granted (honorary) citizenship (by Saudi Arabia).
Professor Bryson has observed that some people are defending Sophia’s human rights, even though it is a robot.
She said: “Robots are simply not people. They are made and bought by humans, who are the responsible agents.”