Robots at CES?

CES, the technology show, arrived in Las Vegas this week

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Autonomous Robot Hit And 'Killed' By Self-Driving Tesla

If you’re worried about intelligent robots taking over the planet, don’t be. Self-driving cars are here to take them down.

Although, you might have to start preparing for self-driving cars to wipe out humanity instead.

In what’s possibly the most futuristic story ever, a driverless Tesla knocked down an autonomous robot after the computerised victim journeyed into the road.

The incident happened on Paradise Road, Las Vegas on Sunday night (January 6), as engineers transported a number of the robots to a display booth ahead of CES – an annual trade show which advertises itself as ‘the global stage where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace.’

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Why do we like to see robots fail?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

For every dystopian vision of the robot revolution, whether it is on the big or small screen, or on the pages of a book, there are also comic portrayals of our mechanical counterparts. Where there's a Dalek in Doctor Who, there's a K-9; Skynet may want to hunt down humans in the Terminator movies, but Number Five is just so happy to be alive in Short Circuit. The automatons threaten in fiction, but they provide the laughs, too.

In real life, the machines are causing angst. Will humans be replaced? Will they take my job? Are they becoming too intelligent for their own good? When robots are at their most successful, they are potentially at their most dangerous. However, even they make epic fails, they cause delight.

Why do we like to see robots fail so much?

“I'm only human” is a common excuse for people making mistakes. Errors are fundamentally human. If robots follow this behaviour and replicate humanity's tendency to mess things up, the machines could endear themselves to humans.

According to Live Science, a recent study found that error-prone robots are more likable than error-free ones. Researchers from the Center for Human-Computer Interaction in Salzburg monitored how participants responded to a robot that made unplanned errors whilst using Lego, compared to a machine that flawlessly completed its tasks. Judging their behaviour and body language, participants “responded more positively to the bumbling robot”. This was judged on criteria that included likeability, anthropomorphism, and perceived intelligence. They liked this robot “significantly more” than the one that made no mistakes at all.

The Verge argues it is tricky to say definitely why mistakes make robots more likable, but they cite the 'Pratfall Effect’. This is a phenomenon in social psychology where humans prefer individuals when they mess up. This could also impact humans and robots. It is worth noting, however, that we don't like people who mess up all the time - we want them to be reliable but not infallible. Mistakes make people more relatable and approachable - and, indeed, more human. Mistakes humanise the machines.

Kate Darling, a robot ethicist at MIT's Media Lab, told Vice that she loves watching robot fail videos. It's not necessarily that it provides reassurance that robots are not going to take over the world after all; it's the way we anthropomorphise robots - or in other words, make them human.

She said: “We subconsciously view them as life-like and project our own attributes, emotions, and failings onto them. It's so similar to the way we laugh at 'America's Funniest Home Videos’ or kids falling down, or videos of animals doing silly, human-like things, or compilations of newscaster fails or models tripping on the runway.”

Funny robots can be a distraction, especially from the potential problems caused by their own technology. We build machines to help us, but they could be a hindrance. Speaking to the New Scientist, Mark Coeckelbergh, a philosopher at the University of Twente, calls the shifting relationship between man and machine the “anthropology of vulnerability”. “Laughing at a clumsy and failing robot is also a means to cope with a serious problem,” he said.

As robots continue to develop and grow more intelligent, it is easy to feel fearful about their evolution. Occasionally, we are reminded that the machines are not so perfect after all. It provides a few laughs and giggles - as well as a sigh of relief.

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The Verge

The five types of robots you meet at CES

Robots are a staple of the CES show floor. They're fun to film, they grab attention, and, most importantly, they symbolize the futuristic fantasies that sustain so much of the tech industry. Without the dream of a robot butler cleaning your house, where would that next round of funding for the struggling robot startup come from?

But as with past shows, this year's robots are a mixed bunch. More often than not, companies are touting functionality they can't yet deliver, though there are some real trends hidden among the puffery.

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