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Beware Emotional Robots: Giving Feelings to Artificial Beings Could Backfire, Study Suggests

March 13, 2017

In the recent movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the face of the character Grand Moff Tarkin was constructed digitally, as the actor who had originally played him had died. Some who knew about the computer trickery saw his appearance as slightly unnatural, leading to a sense of unease. Their discomfort demonstrates what the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori referred to in 1970 as the “uncanny valley”: Our affinity toward robots and animations increases as they physically appear more humanlike, except for a large dip where they are almost but not quite there.

But what happens when a character’s appearance remains the same, but observers think its mind has become more humanlike? New research reveals that this, too, unnerves people, a finding that could have possible implications for a range of human-computer interactions.

The study “pushes forward work on the uncanny valley” by showing that “it’s not simply how [something] moves and how it looks, but also what you think it represents,” says Jonathan Gratch, a computer scientist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who was not involved with the work. “There’s going to be a lot more human-machine interactions, human-machine teams, machines being your boss, machines writing newspaper articles. And so this is a very topical question and problem.”

Read the full article in Science.