As the world of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) becomes less sci-fi and more nonfiction, humans are exploring the role AI might play in day-to-day life. This exploration sparks difficult questions about how robots and humans will interact, such as: “Do humans show racial biases toward robots?” Unfortunately for mankind, studies are showing the answer to this question is yes.
Study on Race-Related Biases Toward Black vs. White Robots
As of now, most robots and AI machines have been white. Manufacturers say it’s because white goes with home décor, but this decision could be having a much greater impact on the perceptions of robots as a whole. Findings from one study presented at the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human Robot Interaction found that humans extend the same racial prejudices to robots as they do to each other. That’s right – whether the robot was black or white mattered to subjects in the study.
According to the study, led by Christoph Bartneck (professor at the Human Interface Technology Lab), robots with anthropomorphic features, such as outer shells of certain colors, result in the perception that the robots have a race. Therefore, the humans interacting with the robots apply implicit biases to them despite the fact that the robots don’t actually belong to a certain race. In the study, only 11% of respondents said race “did not apply” when asked what race the robots were. The study concluded that humans do racialize robots and show racial biases toward them accordingly.
What Does the Study Mean for the Future of Robot-Human Interactions?
Bartneck says that so far racism has not been on the radar for most robot creators. He hopes his study and others like it will bring to light the importance of creating “robots that represent the diversity of their communities” – because the engineers working on robots are quite racially diverse. Bartneck says there is no reason for all robots to be white. He wants manufacturers and engineers who read the study to be more mindful of the “subtle cues and messages products can send their customers.”
Ideally, Bartneck’s study will encourage robot engineers to diversify the shells and anthropomorphic features of their robots, creating a more diverse world of AI instead of making most robots shiny white. Otherwise, racial biases could negatively impact the future of this promising technology, just as racial biases have caused considerable damage to people and society in the past. In other words, inclusion is just as important when dealing with robots as it is in human interactions.