Abusing robots – current positions [part 1 of 4]

Lego_pain“The shocks are becoming too much.”
“Please, please stop.”
“My circuits cannot handle the voltage.”
“I refuse to go on with the experiment.”
“That was too painful, the shocks are hurting me.”

The dialogue above may remind readers of Stanley Milgram’s disturbing (and now-classic) psychology experiments on authority and obedience (1963). But there’s a difference. The clue is in the word ‘circuits’. For this 2008 experiment was not performed with a human subject in the hot seat – but with an apparently intelligent robot (made of LEGO® – see pic).

Researchers at the UseLab of the Technical University of Eindhoven, Dr. Christoph Bartneck and Dr. Jun Hu , instructed the participants in the experiment – entitled : Exploring the abuse of robots  (Interaction Studies, Volume 9, Number 3, 2008) to administer ‘electric  shocks’ to the robot – up to a staggering level of 450 volts. But unlike Milgram’s study, in which 35% of participants refused to administer the fatal voltage, this time none of them turned down the order to give the robot the full (and presumably lethal) shock treatment. There are implications, say the researchers :

“…the results show that people have fewer concerns about abusing robots than about abusing other people.”

but add :

“ …it appears difficult to make valid conclusions about the relationship between the destructive behaviour and the animacy of the robot.”

The paper can be read in full here :


● The second part of the experiment involved participants smashing a robot with a hammer in order to ‘kill’ it.

● The robot abused in the study bears a remarkable similarity to the one identified in two very similar earlier (2005) experiments, also conducted at UseLab but this time by Chioke Rosalia, Rutger Menges, Inèz Deckers, and Christoph Bartneck. See: ‘Cruelty towards robots’ and : ‘Robot Abuse – A Limitation of the Media Equation’  But, oddly perhaps, neither appear to be cited in the newer Bartneck/Hu study.

● All of the participants laughed or giggled during the ‘lethal’ shocking episodes : “Their spontaneous laughter suggests that the setup of the experiment was believable.” say the researchers.

COMING SOON : More robot torture