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Robot Peer Pressure Is the Newest Tech Threat to Children

16 August 2018

Perhaps a writing prompt.

Also, an example of a 21st-century problem.

From Gizmodo:

New research shows that children are more likely than adults to give in to peer pressure from robots, a disturbing finding given the rapidly increasing rate at which kids are interacting with socially intelligent machines.

An experiment led by Anna-Lisa Vollmer from Bielefeld University in Germany is a potent reminder that modern technologies can have a profound effect on children, influencing the way they think and express opinions—even when they know, or at least suspect, their opinions are wrong.

The point of Vollmer’s experiment was to measure the social impact exerted by robots onto both children and adults, particularly the way in which peer pressure from robots might contribute to social conformity. The results, published today in Science Robotics, shows that adults are largely immune to robotic influence, but the same cannot be said of children, who conformed to the opinions of a robotic peer group, even when those opinions were clearly wrong. This research means we need to keep a close eye on the social effects exerted by robots and AI onto young children—an increasingly important issue given the frequency with which children are interacting with social machines.

. . . .

Vollmer tested both adults and children. A total of 60 adults were divided into three groups: the alone group (the control), a group involving three other human peers, and a group consisting of three robots (the SoftBank Robotics Nao humanoid robot was used for the experiment). In two of every three tests, all three members of both peer groups (the human and robotic peers) unanimously gave the wrong answer. Consistent with other studies, adults often conformed to the opinions of their human peers, even when the answers were blatantly, obviously wrong. But the adults were not persuaded by the peer pressure exerted by the social robots, resisting the incorrect answers spouted by the machines. Interestingly, this result contradicts the “computers as social actors” (CASA) hypothesis, which states that, in the words of the study’s authors, “people naturally and unconsciously treat computers and other forms of media in a manner that is fundamentally social, attributing human-like qualities to technology.”

The same experiment was done with 43 children between the ages of seven and nine. The test was identical to the one given to the adults, except there was no human peer pressure group; it’s already very well established that kids are more susceptible to social influence. In this case, the researchers wanted to focus exclusively on the influence of robotic peers. Results showed that, unlike adults, the children were “significantly influenced” by the presence of robot peers, providing identical incorrect responses nearly 75 percent of the time.

. . . .

As the researchers write in the study:

In this light, care must be taken when designing the applications and artificial intelligence of these physically embodied machines, particularly because little is known about the long-term impact that exposure to social robots can have on the development of children and vulnerable sections of society. More specifically, problems could originate not only from intentional programming of malicious behavior (e.g., robots that have been designed to deceive) but also from the unintentional presence of biases in artificial systems or the misinterpretation of autonomously gathered data by a learning system itself. For example, if robots recommend products, services, or preferences, will compliance and thus convergence be higher than with more traditional advertising methods?

Link to the rest at Gizmodo


11 Comments to “Robot Peer Pressure Is the Newest Tech Threat to Children”

  1. Yup, poor kids expect something programmed by big people not to lie/be wrong.

    Would have been nice if they’d tested the adults/kids to see what ‘facts’ they actually knew before being peer/bot tested.

    • NEWSFLASH: Children believed what they’re told… News at 11.

      • I was annoyed with this line:

        “Consistent with other studies, adults often conformed to the opinions of their human peers, even when the answers were blatantly, obviously wrong.”

        Blatantly obvious to who? Deities know there are plenty of adults that are ignorant of many things and will agree with peers rather than admit that ignorance, kids would be even more so.

        As for news flashes, let me cherry-pick the ‘research’ I want and I can prove/disprove just about anything. 😉

  2. I’m starting to think that Asimov’s I, ROBOT collection should be made required reading. Or at least the first short story; ROBBIE.


    If nothing else, as a counterpoint to FRANKENSTEIN.

    People need to understand that robots are just another kind of machine, like looms, cars, or vacuum cleaners. How they impact society is up to the humans, not the machines.

    If we find ourselves ever dealing with killer machines it will only be because some idiot taught them to kill.

    • Self-driving cars that can recognize a human and aim?

      • Why not?
        It would teach jaywalkers to use pedestrian crossings.
        Survival of the “street-wise”. 😀

        • Ha!

          My tale in the future had that – but the early self-driving car drivers were aiming and running over would-be carjackers that had wrongly figured the self-driving cars would ‘have’ to stop if they simply stepped in front of them.

          It was part of explaining ‘why’ is was still a good idea to learn how to drive even if the car can do everything, taking over when you don’t know how can be worse than if you’d just left things alone.

  3. I’m not clear on what new thing this tells us, or what “paradigm” this changes. The article itself acknowledges that kids — and adults! — have trouble resisting peer pressure. What difference does it make if the peer is sapient or not? You still have to teach kids to think for themselves. And you still can’t let an unvetted machine baby-sit your kids. Or an unvetted human for that matter.

    • That little Furby wants your kid to know that they can get a real ‘charge’ by plugging themselves in. 😛

    • But…but…but…

      Machines are evil!
      Exposing children to machines is a fast road to Colossus!!

      They said the same things about TV, about PCs, computer and console gaming, about the internet, about ebooks! Anything that changes the status quo is evil, evil, evil…

  4. Yes, but now you have Elon Musk saying it, so it must be true!!!!

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