As children are helpless in so many ways, they get a frantic thrill from being in control. It turns out that this includes a lust for violence against robots.
This desire for dominance is a hindrance in places such as schools, hospitals, museums, and shops where robots will need to interact with children in the near future. So, scientists and psychologists are working together to create a robot that children don’t want to beat up.
With this motivation in mind, researchers in Japan conducted a social experiment in a shopping mall by observing children with a human-sized robot. When children became aggressive, the robot responded to negative physical contact in a humanlike manner. Still, they mercilessly bullied the robot in a fit of laughter. The researchers wrote:
We observed serious abusive behaviors with physical contact such as kicking, punching, beating, folding arms, and moving (bending) the joints of robot’s arm and head. [ . . . ] Some children frequently obstructed the robot’s path regardless of the robot’s utterance requesting for the children to stop the obstruction, covered up the robot’s eyes with their hands, and beat the robot’s head.[
The researchers interviewed 23 children, all under age 10, who had just abused the robot. Curiosity, enjoyment, and peer pressure were the biggest motivators. But the researchers discovered something quite upsetting about the kids’ perception of the robot.
The majority of children did perceive the robot as a humanlike being, while only 13 percent saw it as a machine. This means that they recognized that the robot seemed to be experiencing pain and stress, but they didn’t care. They were in control and having a blast.