Pleo the dinosaur is a lovable toylike robot that was created to be both beaten and cuddled in psychological experiments to test human empathy for robots. A workshop presented Pleo as a plaything at first. People quickly grew to adore his trusting eyes and endearing noises as he learned to move around the table.
When Pleo is first pulled from the box, it can’t walk or do anything. Its caretaker teaches it about the world through play, with some hugs and tickles sprinkled in.
After an hour of innocent bonding with Pleo, the participants were asked to torture and kill him. Weapons were spread out on the table, including knives, hammers, and hatchets.
Kate Darling is the laughably ironic name for the robot ethicist who conducted these studies. The workshop mentioned above was just for fun apparently. The actual science involved people watching videos while their bodily reactions were monitored. The result of the workshop, however, was more dramatic than even Darling had anticipated.
It’s not the same as taking a defunct copier machine from work and beating it up with a baseball bat because we’re talking about a new kind of machine: the social robot. It’s meant to evoke your empathy. So it’s no wonder that people couldn’t harm it despite their logical brains telling them that it was just a stupid robot. One participant stood with hammer raised, frozen mid-swing. Eventually, they just decided to pet Pleo instead.[
Then Darling told them that they could save their dinosaurs by killing someone else’s. Still, nobody moved a muscle. Eventually, she announced that one Pleo had to be sacrificed or all the robots would be slaughtered. That’s when one man grabbed a hatchet and gave a single fatal blow to one of the dinosaurs.
The room fell silent. Everyone was surprised by their intense emotions. If you are curious as to how you’d react, check out the video above. Without even getting to know the robot’s endearing side, it’s still almost too much to handle.