Commanding Robots

When we receive good advice, whether to save the planet or to look after ourselves, we are often reluctant to take it. But the how we get the message is also important. Reading a few lines in a manual and we find that easy to ignore, but as we move further into the blue skies ahead we will have our devices and machines giving us good advice verbally.

How are we going to cope with some form of robot telling us what to do? Roubroeks et al of U Tech. Eindhoven have been trying to persuade 138 adults of a wide range of ages to start saving the planet when they use their washing machines (1). They tried various degrees of firmness in the advice as well as different methods of delivery.

The advice came in three ways: i. a printed document on a computer screen, ii the printed document with a picture of a cute iCat robot looking at them and lastly, iii. a movie clip with the robot speaking the text. The advice ranged from general advice to “you must” advice.

The candidates didn’t care for the robot apparently telling them what to do. The impassive picture of a robot gave them a little less negative feelings and they were least negative about the printed screen document.

What went down with the least resistance to the message was kindly advice without a robot anywhere in sight. Robots were bad news when the instruction was firmly given. Now, most of us get rather negative about obeying commands gratuitously given, but it seems we certainly don’t like machines telling us what to do even if it is only standing there looking at us as we read the instructions.

I would dearly like to know if any of the participants went home and actually took the advice to save energy by using lower temperature wash cycles. They should really try the experiment with a voice from the washing machine triggered by the setting up of the wash cycle asking them or strongly telling them to conserve energy with a voice of someone’s grandmother.

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