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Human interaction key to making social robots

by Pieter Werner

At Cornell University, researchers are advocating for a shift in focus within the field of social robotics, suggesting that the key to making robots more sociable lies not in their design but in human interaction. This perspective is detailed in a study led by Waki Kamino, a doctoral student at Cornell, who conducted extensive fieldwork in Tokyo to observe the interaction between humans and robots.

The study, co-authored by Malte Jung, an associate professor of information science at Cornell, and Selma Šabanović, a professor at Indiana University, highlights the sociological aspects of human-robot interaction (HRI). Jung emphasizes the importance of considering the community and societal contexts in which robots are used, rather than solely focusing on enhancing the robots’ design features such as appearance or behavior.

Kamino’s research in Tokyo revealed that the interaction between robot owners and their community plays a crucial role in integrating robots into daily social life. Events organized by manufacturers, which encourage robot owners to gather and share their experiences, have fostered a culture where robots are seen as social agents rather than isolated machines. This communal approach has led to the establishment of new social norms regarding how robots are perceived and interacted with in public and private spaces.

The findings challenge traditional HRI research, which typically focuses on direct interactions between individuals and robots. Instead, the authors propose a broader examination of the social dynamics surrounding these interactions, suggesting that a more communal and interaction-focused approach could enhance the sociability of robots. This could lead to robots being more effectively integrated into social settings, creating a more interactive and engaging environment for users.

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