Dogs Love Robots, Prefer Humans

When the robo-uprising happens, will our best friends stick with us?

Sep 13 2013, 7:35pm
Image credit: Eniko Kubinyi.

Here’s a little bit of charming science for your Friday afternoon: researchers recently spent some time forcing dogs and robots to hang out together, in order to better understand the social qualities of interactive robots. The scientists had two objectives: to find out whether canines would interact with a robot and also to see whether they would ascribe social qualities to a non-living, non-human-like being.

Dogs were divided into two groups: one would have a social interaction with the robot while the other would have an asocial interaction. They were allowed to watch their owners interact with the robot before meeting it themselves, which was then followed by a session wherein the canine subjects had to obey gestural cues from either a robot or a human. The robot purposely did not look human, save for its arms and gloved hand, as the researchers wanted to explore sociality apart from anthropoid features.

For those who fear the inevitable robot coup, the results of the experiment, published this month in Animal Cognition, are heartening: dogs were interested in the robots, especially if the robots themselves were social and they saw owners interact with the robot, but ultimately were not as responsive or successful in following cues as they would otherwise be with humans. In other words, we are still number one.

But the implications of these results go beyond the ethological and offer some insight for roboticists into how to create a social bot. Dogs are cultural blank slates when it comes to robots. They do not have an archive of Terminator films and terrifying Cybermen to fall back upon, so their reactions to robots can be illuminating in ways that those of humans cannot be.

The results showed that after witnessing a robot interacting with a human, dogs were able to ascribe a certain degree of sociality to a robot. “These findings suggest that enhancing sociality in robotic agents may be a good direction for roboticists to consider when designing interactive robots, independently from the embodiment of the agent,” wrote the researchers.

While none of this seems that all that earth shattering, it was at the very least an excuse to see these photos of dogs hanging out with robots. A good way to kick off the weekend, if you ask me.

Image credit: Eniko Kubinyi.