People Are Racists Towards Robots, According To Study

People Are Racists Towards Robots, According To Study

"Human-shaped robots should represent the diversity of humans," said Christoph Bartneck, the lead researcher of this study.

If you are a sci-fi enthusiast, then your love for robots is not far behind. But have you ever noticed how most of their automated human-looking droids are often displayed in a fair skin tone? It's especially evident in popular Hollywood movies like Will Smith's I Robot and Eve from Wall-E. Notice how the famous ones are always white? Some real-life examples that include Boston Dynamics' Atlas, Honda's Asimo, UBTECH's Walker, and of course NASA's Valkyrie robot are also made from a shiny white material. So what is the reason behind using such light shades for these technologies?


A study conducted by Human Interface Technology Laboratory in New Zealand (HIT Lab NZ) answers this question in their latest study Robots and Racism published by the University of Canterbury. According to this, people have been said to perceive these human-like droids to have a designated race. While creating these black and white robots, their stereotypical racial inclination nudges them to provide the said color. 


The study further explains how displaying different social cues, including the aforementioned colors, helps people leave an impression on others. Researchers have found that such colors trigger social cues which assists one to determine their behavior towards other humans and robots. Christoph Bartneck, the lead researcher of this study told The Next Web, "The bias against black robots is a result of bias against African-Americans." Speaking to CNN, he explained, "It is amazing to see how people who had no prior interaction with robots show racial bias towards them."


A "shooter bias" test was conducted where images of a couple of robots that had limbs like humans were used and while some of them were white (more like a pinkish complexion) others were black (a deep brown shade of skin). The images of these robots and were displayed on the screen for less than a second along with pictures of black and white people at random. The experiment required the participants to only shoot the ones holding a weapon. The results were startling. It was seen that black people weren't holding a threating weapon was shot more than white people carrying one. 


Stressing on this prevalent racial bias against robots, researchers think it is something that needs to be addressed immediately. Providing an example of how such discrimination could inadvertently affect our lives, the study says, "If robots are supposed to function as teachers, friends, or carers, for instance, then it will be a serious problem if all of these roles are only ever occupied by robots that are racialized as White." The study further points how a simple image search on Google for the term "robot" predominantly displays a lighter complexion. Thus, researchers consider the overrepresentation of white robots as a harmful factor to the other races.


Although robot designers hail from different parts of the world, Bartneck is disappointed how most of them only idealize the white ones. "Human-shaped robots should represent the diversity of humans," said Bartneck during his interview with The Next Web. "Imagine a world in which all Barbie dolls are white. Imagine a world in which all the robots working in Africa or India are white. Further, imagine that these robots take over roles that involve authority. Clearly, this would raise concerns about imperialism and white supremacy," he told CNN. "Robots are not just machines, but they represent humans."


Now, for the second part of their study, the HIT Lab NZ team included a lighter brown shade of robots in the mix. In doing so, they tried to increase the level of racial diversity and this turned out to be rather eye-opening. The racial bias that was previously observed in towards the robots seemed to have vanished. Thus, they concluded this "potentially means that diversification of robots might lead to a reduction in racial bias towards them," as per the study. "This leads me to believe that we have everything to win by offering racial options and nothing to lose," Bartneck told the news outlet. "In the same way that we do want Barbie dolls in all colors and shapes, we also want robots in more than just white."


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