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Robots Fail to Steal Dog Loyalty Away From Humans

By Wesley Fenlon

A recent study found that dogs are more open to robots when humans socialize with them, but they're still more interested in humans.

If you read the headline "Dogs are perfectly happy to socialize with robots," would you freak out? See your history of dog-human companionship spiraling away as some robot took up your life and the affections of man's best friend? Well, rest easy, humans. As PopSci writes, dogs may be happy to socialize with robots, but they don't actually see our metal counterparts as human-replacements. In fact, a recent study in canine-cyborg relations discovered that dogs take cues from humans to determine whether robots are social creatures. If they are social, the dogs are way more interested in paying attention to them.

The study was set up to determine whether dogs would behave differently around social and asocial robots, and how that behavior would compare with their behavior around humans. Here's how it worked: a human and dog entered into a room housing a telepresence robot, which had a pair of white-gloved arms and a laptop for displaying facial expressions. In one scenario, the robot moved its arms, displayed faces, and used a pre-recorded human voice to talk. The human in the room also addressed the robot as if it were a real person.

Photo credit: Flickr user ewwhite via Creative Commons

In a second scenario, the robot only made R2-D2 beeping noises, and the human being typed on its keyboard instead of speaking to it. After the social phase, the humans and robots would point to food hidden in the room, trying to get the dog to find it. These were the results, as summarized by the study's abstract:

"The results showed that in the interaction phase, the dogs’ behavior towards the robot was affected by the differential exposure. Dogs spent more time staying near the robot experimenter as compared to the human experimenter, with this difference being even more pronounced when the robot behaved socially. Similarly, dogs spent more time gazing at the head of the robot experimenter when the situation was social. Dogs achieved a significantly lower level of performance (finding the hidden food) with the pointing robot than with the pointing human; however, separate analysis of the robot sessions suggested that gestures of the socially behaving robot were easier for the dogs to comprehend than gestures of the asocially behaving robot. Thus, the level of sociality shown by the robot was not enough to elicit the same set of social behaviors from the dogs as was possible with humans, although sociality had a positive effect on dog–robot interactions."

Man's best friend is still loyal. For now, anyway.