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Touched By a Robot, Not Exactly Thrilled

robot nurse
Artificial intelligence may have made leaps and bounds in recent years, but roboticists still have a long way to go in mapping and replicating the type of emotional intelligence that informs much of human interaction. It's no easy task. The trick is that even while scientists make progress on one front (take the emotionally mature Nexi), human interactions are so complex that even small issues can pose huge problems. Take, for instance, the question of touch. Would you mind if a robot patted your arm? Would it make a difference if the robot was trying to comfort you? Or would it, to put it bluntly, skeeze you out?

In a study done at the Georgia Institute of Technology (starring Cody, the robot nurse), researchers discovered that human reaction to robotic touch hinges largely on perceived intent. When Cody swabbed participants' arms in a manner perceived as serviceable, people were fine with it. When he touched them for comfort, not so much.

The findings actually mirror one from previous studies done with human nurses. Lead researcher Charlie Kemp notes that patients in those studies were similarly unhappy to be touched in a comforting manner.

Small stuff? Yes and no. As robots become more intelligent and their presence more ubiquitous, we need to figure out what mannerisms will make coexistence as smooth as possible.

As Kemp puts it, "Primarily people have been focused on how can we make the robot safe, how can we make it do its task effectively. But that's not going to be enough if we actually want these robots out there helping people in the real world."

Tags: artificial intelligence, ArtificialIntelligence, cody, cody robot, CodyRobot, GeorgiaTech, medicine, robots, top