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Lt. Data, Locutus and the Future of Psychology

Are we prepared for a future alongside robots?

Robots are no longer just science fiction; they are real, and this is an area where views regarding fact and fiction are particularly confused. How will they affect our daily lives? How intelligent are they? What do they tell us about the meaning of life?

Human-Robot Interaction is a quickly-growing area, drawing on ideas from robotics, engineering, psychology and cognitive science. As robots become increasingly intelligent, we will interact with them in new and quite probably surprising ways. This raises deep issues of ethics, culture, social intelligence, communication and interaction that have traditionally been studied in psychology and sociology.

People’s Attitudes Toward Robots

At an interactive “Robot Thought” event held at London’s Science Museum in 2006, a total of 844 children and 627 adults were asked their opinions. Responses were mainly positive, with more respondents describing robots as “useful” and “clever” than “weird” or “scary.” Many more participants viewed robots as “friendly,” “exciting” and “cool” than “evil.”

At a similar event held in the UK science center at Bristol in 2004, people were asked what they want from robots. Results showed that overwhelmingly, adults would not want a robot living with them as a pet, roommate, friend or lover, only as a servant.

Further questioning revealed some confusion over the current abilities of robots. Driving cars and making furniture were generally reckoned to be within the scope of robots, with surgery and teaching not far behind. On the other hand, most respondents thought it unlikely that robots would ever work in space or fight in wars. Nobody thought robots would ever “rebel against us.”

There was also widespread skepticism that robots might ever think they were human, due to the inherent technical limitations of artificial intelligence. But all the respondents thought that any confusion over robot/human identity would be a difficult problem if it arose. Some predicted issues over rights, and there seemed to be a general assumption that if artificial intelligence were ever created it would inevitably be drawn into conflict with humans.
There was general agreement with the statement “I am concerned about ethical issues arising from robot technology.”

In terms of their usefulness, most people hoped that robots would help with domestic chores. Repetitive tasks were also thought to be suitable, together with dangerous work (like mine clearance and deep sea diving). But the worst things a robot could do were thought to be causing harm to humans or “taking our jobs.”

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Researchers from the University of the West of England concluded that most people are skeptical about robots’ potential abilities.

Further insights have been gained by the University of Hertfordshire’s human-robot interaction researchers in the UK, who are looking into “acceptable” robot behavior. So far they have found that only 40 percent of adults approve of having a robot in their home. They believe this could be due to lack of familiarity and exposure to robots. Children are far more interested — 90 percent would like to live with a robot. However, few respondents want a robot as a friend. Ninety percent would like a robot to do household chores, but only ten percent to assist with childcare. “This finding could be related to people’s perceptions that robots do not possess humanlike personality/character traits,” say the researchers.

Many participants didn’t want robots to show too much autonomy, preferring them to take a servant role. In tests, people were uncomfortable having a robot approach them from behind, block their path, or move around the room for no apparent reason.

Interestingly, the idea of robots looking like “real people” was not rated highly. The researchers report: “As a robot approaches a pure humanlike appearance, people generally exhibit discomfort and even revulsion towards it.”


Robot Thought

Robot Thought: Audience Research Oct. 2004 (Word .doc)

Social Interaction and Learning in
Human-Robot Shared Environments May 2006 (PDF)

Lt. Data, Locutus and the Future of Psychology

Jane Collingwood

Jane Collingwood is a longtime regular contributing journalist to Psych Central, focusing on topics of mental health and dissecting recent research findings.

APA Reference
Collingwood, J. (2019). Lt. Data, Locutus and the Future of Psychology. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 18 Mar 2019 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 18 Mar 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.