Against a highly competent robot, humans cave in under pressure

Against a highly competent robot, humans cave in under pressure

The vision of a world where robots and humans coexist peacefully is a dream most proponents of artificial intelligence share.

But pit robots against humans on their tasks – and you’ll soon find our kin demoralized when they find themselves defeated by machines.

New research from Cornell University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem enlisted people to play a game with a robot, and the results were disheartening for the human participants.

This was the first study to measure the impact of machines on humans when they become rivals.

Whether they were simply counting how often the letter “G” appeared in a sequence of characters, or told to place blocks inside a bin, the humans could tell their robotic opponent was far superior.

As people lost to the machine, they began to slack off and viewed themselves as “less competent.” This left some people feeling “very stressed” and describing the experience as “nerve-racking.”

When the machine slowed down, the humans were able to pace themselves and feel better. But while people preferred a seemingly less competitive robot, they still knew the machine was more competent than humans.

Even when a cash prize was involved, the incentive did not appear to motivate people to do better, the researchers found.

The study gives engineers, roboticists, and workforce managers greater insight into what a robotic future might be like for workers when they begin working alongside smarter machines.

“Humans and machines already share many workplaces, sometimes working on similar or even identical tasks,” said Guy Hoffman, assistant professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and one of the senior authors of the study.

“Think about a cashier working side-by-side with an automatic check-out machine, or someone operating a forklift in a warehouse, which also employs delivery robots driving right next to them.”

“While it may be tempting to design such robots for optimal productivity,” Hoffman said, “engineers and managers need to take into consideration how the robots’ performance may affect the human workers’ effort and attitudes toward the robot and even toward themselves.”