Robot Appearance: Implications (03-01-21)

Research has shown that how human-like a robot appears to be influences how we think about what those robots do.  Researchers lead by Laakasuo determined that when “study participants read short narratives where either a robot, a somewhat humanoid robot known as iRobot, a robot with a strong humanoid appearance called iClooney or a human being encounters a moral problem along the lines of the trolley dilemma, making a specific decision. The participants were also shown images of these agents, after which they assessed the morality of their decisions. . . . The trolley dilemma is a problem where a person sees a trolley careening on the tracks, without anyone in control, towards five people. The person can either do nothing or turn the trolley onto another track, saving the five people but killing another individual on the other track. According to the study, people consider the choice made by the humanoid iRobot and iClooney less ethically sound than the same decision made by a human and a robot with a traditional robot-like appearance.”

Michael Laakasuo, Tuire Korvuo, and Niina Niskanen.  2021. “The Appearance of Robots Affects Our Perception of the Morality of Their Decisions.”  Press release, University of Helsinki,