An android toll collector: How cool would that be?

July 17th, 2009 - 5:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, July 17 (IANS) Scientists say humanity is still 50 years from developing robots that will be able to speak in ‘human-like’ voices, mimic our motions and interact with us. How will we then react to these robots, that have been named androids?
Psychologist Neal J. Roese and computer scientist Eyal Amir from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UI-UC) investigate what such interactions may be like.

By 2060, it is predicted that androids will still be unable to detect aspects of natural language, and be incapable of understanding what they see.

The most difficult development in artificial intelligence (AI) is trying to programme the “Theory of Mind”, or the effortless human ability to process other people’s speech, actions, underlying motives, and emotional state.

Roese and Amir predict that by 2060 androids will be used for menial jobs, such as being toll collectors, where the presence of a non-human is practical, but not frightening.

A major worker shift from people to androids, similar to the shift to machines in factories, is expected to occur, said an UI-UC release.

The psychological challenges of human-android interaction involve the absence of basic human functions such as blinking, body language, eye contact, and the coordination of personal space in an android, which could potentially make people uneasy when interacting with them.

But would people be more or less comfortable interacting with androids if they were ever indistinguishable from humans? Would stereotypes towards non-humans occur?

Being unable to gauge who is human and who is not might cause confusion and fear in the public, even though we are the ones creating androids for our own benefit.

These findings were published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

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