Why Don’t People Trust Robots?

The relationship between robots and humans has always been tenuous, and with robots growing even more autonomous, the mistrust is here to stay.

AI and robots have evolved at an incredible speed, but despite their achievements, humans do not seem to trust them. The myths around robots and trust are not totally unfounded. Robots have replaced millions of factory workers around the world and are getting better at doing human jobs.

Humans have a double-sided fascination with robots and technology. On one hand, there are countless videos of robots performing distinctly human actions like walking, jumping, painting, or dancing. The fascination doesn’t end with robots that have human forms – there are also robotic dogs, snakes, and AI virtual avatars. On the other hand, there is a wariness associated with these intelligent machines.


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As for the report by the The New York Times, the New York Fire Department has purchased two $ 75,000 Boston Dynamic robot dogs to deploy on dangerous search and rescue missions. The department is hoping New Yorkers will change their perceptions of robots after a controversy caused by previous NYPD robot police dogs. Local residents took a dislike to the robot dogs and felt they were intrusive and a breach of privacy. While the claims were justified, there is a darker trend when it comes to human-robot relationships.

The Frankenstein Syndrome: From Trust To Violence

Atlas Humanoid Robot

A study in Science Robotics revealed that humans do not connect with a robot because they don’t perceive them as equals. Further, the study concluded that people were averse to robots in an authority role. The reasons for this are varied – people feel threatened, intimidated and annoyed when robots are too efficient. Robots and AI have been heavily developed for military purposes giving them a tainted reputation. Governments also use AI and robotics for surveillance, a move that rarely sits well with the public.

This lack of trust in robots has even gone far enough to turn into violence. Strange as it may seem, it’s not uncommon for humans to hurt robots, as detailed in another The New York Times report. In 2015, Hitchbot, a strange robot that depended on the kindness of strangers to travel was vandalized and beheaded in Philadelphia. In 2017, a security robot in San Francisco was also vandalized, tarped, knocked over, and covered in BBQ sauce. In Osaka, three boys beat a humanoid robot in a shopping mall.

Psychology experts say this is caused by what is known as the “Frankenstein Syndrome”, The fear that a creation (in this case, a robot) made by a human can rebel against its creator or derail its function and cause harm. Robots – especially humanoid ones – are also considered “outsiders“, which is why humans naturally tend to ostracize them. As robots grow even more autonomous, the mistrust from humans seems here to stay.

Next: This Tiny Robot Is Learning How To Navigate The Ocean By Itself

Source: NYT 1, 2, Science Robotics

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