Today in news which could be amazing for the future of humanity or might spell the beginning of the end, researchers at the University of Plymouth have discovered that whilst adults are unlikely to have their opinions and decisions influenced by robots, the same is not true for young children.
The study (led by postdoctoral researcher Anna Vollmer) used the Asch paradigm. Subjects were asked to look at a screen which showed four lines, and asked to say which two were the same length. Previous studies have established that adults can have their opinions and decisions influenced by their peers but not by robots, and the results here held true. The point of interest was that the children in the experiment – aged seven and nine – often did change their answers to match those of the humanoid robots that were with them.
When answering by themselves, children scored 87% on the test. But once robots were introduced, that result dropped to 75% – of which 74% of the wrong answers matched those of the robots.
Professor Tony Belpaeme, one of the researchers, noted the results show that “children can perhaps have more of an affinity with robots than adults, which does pose the question: what if robots were to suggest, for example, what products to buy or what to think?”
Thankfully, this research, and others like it, are not focused on using robots to market to children, but rather on improving health and social outcomes for children by exploring the viability of autonomous social robots which help to guide children through dealing with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, or learning new languages.