Scary, but true! People are trusting robots blindly even if they are wrong. As New Scientists reports, a recent experiment was held at the Georgia Institute of Technology where the test subjects willingly followed a robot to safety during a mock fire, even when it led them away from the real exit signs.
“We were surprised,” said Paul Robinette, the graduate student who led the study. “We thought that there wouldn’t be enough trust, and that we’d have to do something to prove the robot was trustworthy.”
In the study, Robinette’s team used a customized Pioneer P3-AT, a small bin like robot with wheels which has lit-up foam arms to point. 30 subjects started out the test by following that robot when a smoke alarm went off and artificial smoke filled the hall. Surprisingly, 26 of the subjects ended up following the robot even if it would lead them through the smoke down a new path, and towards a new door they have never seen before. Shocking, right? They could have easily exited through the clearly marked path but they didn’t. Two were thrown out of the experiment for some unrelated reasons of the remaining four. And the other two never left the room.
When asked, many of the participants explained that they followed the robot as it was wearing the sign “EMERGENCY GUIDE ROBOT.” The answers were the clear sign that we are depending too much on technology instead of our common sense. The situation became even scarier when Robinette and his colleagues put another small group of people through the same experiment, but this time, with a little twist. The robot would sometimes freeze in a place or break down during the experiment, and a researcher came out to apologize for its poor performance. Even then, almost everyone followed the robot.
It’s alarming. Technology has taken us so far that almost everything is autonomous these days. And we almost have forgotten to use our common sense instead of relying on these malicious robots and computers. The experiment was a warning to humankind. The research will be presented at the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.