Humans Turned On By Touching Robots

Touching robots in their ‘intimate’ areas might arouse humans, says a new study conducted by researchers from Stanford University. The results will be presented at the International Communication Association in Japan.

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Robots might be non-living, but they will still elicit responses in humans. This is what was concluded from a series of experiments involving a small Nao robot (an Aldebaran Robotics Nao robot). The robot, made of plastic and consisting of 13 body parts, was programmed to ask participants to either touch or point to any one of the latter. To determine the physiological arousal of the volunteers when responding to the robot, the researchers measured their skin conductance through a sensor placed on their skin.

The findings suggest that those who were asked to touch the ‘intimate’ areas of the robot- regions that would otherwise be the genitals or buttocks, called “body parts with low accessibility” by the researchers- showed the strongest indications of arousal. Otherwise, pointing at these regions did not lead to the response, nor did touching other body parts.

“Our work shows that robots are a new form of media that is particularly powerful,” says Jamy Li, one of the authors, in a statement to The Guardian.

Commenting on the results, Li, explains that the response of the people to the robots happens in a primitive, social manner. The social conventions pertaining to touching the intimate parts of a human seem to apply for a robot as well. According to him, the study has implications for fields entailing robot design, and artificial system theories. For instance, the research brings forth pertinent questions revolving around the possibility of having robots that bear resemblance to humans in the future: what will our relationships to them be, if indeed science and technology bring us to such inventions?

“Social robots can elicit tactile responses in human physiology, a result that signals the power of robots, and should caution mechanical and interaction designers about positive and negative effects of human-robot interactions,” write the authors.

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