Are Robots Replacing Humans as Dog’s Best Friend? New Study Reveals Surprising News

PetMD Editorial
September 23, 2013
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Millions of factory line workers have watched robots take over their jobs in recent decades, and now a new study suggests that dog parents could be replaced by social robots.

A recent study published in Animal Cognition found that dogs interacted with robots that behaved socially towards them, even if the devices looked nothing like a human.

The study, conducted by the Hungarian Academy of Science and Eötvös Loránd University, tested 41 dogs that were divided into two groups depending on the nature of human-robot interaction: "asocial" or "social." One set of dogs in the "asocial" group first observed an interaction between two humans (the owner and the human experimenter) and then observed an "asocial" interaction between the owner and the robot. The remaining dogs in this group participated in these interactions in the reverse order.

In the "social group," one set of dogs watched an interaction between the owner and the human experimenter, followed by observing a "social" interaction between the owner and the robot. The remaining dogs in this group also participated in these interactions in the reverse order. These interactions were followed by sessions in which either the human experimenter or the robot pointed out the location of hidden food, in both the "asocial" and the "social" groups.

The robots were either programmed to operate like a machine or in a human-like manner.

The robots used in the experiment didn’t look human, but instead resembled a piece of gym equipment, with automated “arms” outfitted with a white glove at the end of each arm, giving it the appearance of human hands. When programmed to behave in a human-like manner, the robot could also interact with the dogs by speaking to them.

When the dogs were near the robots programmed to behave like humans, the dogs spent more time with them, and they also gazed at the robot’s “head,” which was a computer screen, but they did not interact with them on a level that they interact with real humans.

The results also showed that the dogs found food pointed out by the robot that acted human toward them.

Researchers believe the results were also due, in part, to the dogs observing their owners interact with the robots that behaved like humans.  

Gabriella Lakatos, lead author of the study, says the study provides important insights into the mental processes of living creatures, as well as information about how social robots should be designed. "Roboticists who design interactive robots should look into the sociality and behavior of their designs, even if they do not embody human-like characteristics," Lakatos advises.

Image: Eniko Kubinyi


Video via Kelsey Atherton YouTube

Do you believe your dog would know the difference between a robot and human?