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Study Says Robots Incompetent, Unfunny

Robots are bad at many jobs, and terrible at others.


A new Georgia Institute of Technology study has yielded some interesting results.

The team initially set out to test gender bias in robots. For example, did people find robots with a female persona to be less competent at jobs than robots with male personas? 

While the researchers couldn't find any significant sexism, they did stumble onto a few new findings: robots are bad at many jobs, and they are terrible at comedy. According to humans, anyways. 

While robots are not yet sentient -- that we know of -- they are becoming more integrated into society. The current coronavirus pandemic will likely increase demand for robots, especially in "dull, dirty, dangerous" jobs. Some companies have humanized robots in an attempt to make actual humans feel more comfortable around them. 

For the study, about 200 participants met humanoid robots via video. They ranged from those in their 20s up to some in their 70s, and most were college-educated. The humans then ranked the robots' career competencies compared to human abilities.

Overall, a majority of participants thought that the robot was competent as a home health aid, news anchor, package deliverer, receptionist, restaurant server, teacher, and tour guide.

However, participants couldn't see the robots as competent comedians, firefighters, nannies, nurses, security guards, surgeons, and therapists. 

It's odd since Da Vinci is a very well known and competent tool in surgical suites. And many companies are developing firefighting or rescue robots to perform life-saving activities in environments that human counterparts couldn't survive. 

The researchers couldn't say where the competence biases originate. Still, it's odd (and perhaps symptomatic of the times) that humans would trust robots as teachers and news anchors, but not as nannies or nurses, especially since another emerging category for robot workers is home healthcare, such as keeping abandoned elderly people company.

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