The results show that the robot had an authoritative social presence: a small, child-like humanoid robot had enough authority to pressure 46 percent of participants to rename files for 80 minutes, even after indicating that they wanted to quit. Even after trying to avoid the task or engaging in arguments with the robot, participants still (often reluctantly) obeyed its commands. These findings highlight that robots can indeed pressure people to do things they would rather not do, supporting the need for ongoing research into obedience to robotic authorities.
We further provide insight into some of the interaction dynamics between people and robotic authorities, for example, that people may assume a robot to be malfunctioning when asked to do something unusual, or that there may be a deflection of the authority role from the robot to a person.
As far as robots go, Nao isn't really intended to be an authority figure. Its physical design and voice are both very non-threatening. In this study, 86 percent obeyed a human in a lab coat, which is significantly more than the 46 percent that obeyed Nao. But the point is that nearly half of the participants obeyed orders that they really didn't want to obey from a tiny, friendly little robot.
The suggestion is that people don't immediately dismiss robots as authorities, even if the robots are (apparently) autonomous and despite being told, twice, that there are no consequences to disobeying: "you can quit whenever you'd like. It's up to you how much data you give us; you are in control. Let us know when you think you're done and want to move on."A lot more research into this topic is needed, of course, but looks like our future robot overlords bosses won't face much resistance.
You can read the entire paper here.
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