Good news for people that like to make terrible decisions and avoid taking responsibility: robot scapegoats are here.
According to a new academic paper published by the University of Southampton on December 11, robots can actually encourage risk-taking behavior in humans. The study was led by Dr Yaniv Hanoch, Associate Professor in Risk Management at the University of Southampton. The paper was published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
The study involved 180 undergraduate students who were given a computer assessment that measured how likely they would be to "press their luck" in situations where they were awarded money and had the option to keep going, facing potential losses, or take the money and run.
"One-third of the participants took the test in a room on their own (the control group), one third took the test alongside a robot that only provided them with the instructions but was silent the rest of the time and the final, the experimental group, took the test with the robot providing instruction as well as speaking encouraging statements..."
The experiment found that the group that was encouraged by the robots took more risks - and also earned more money overall.
"We know that peer pressure can lead to higher risk-taking behavior. With the ever-increasing scale of interaction between humans and technology, both online and physically, it is crucial that we understand more about whether machines can have a similar impact," Hanoch explained.
He continued: "We saw participants in the control condition scale back their risk-taking behaviour following a balloon explosion, whereas those in the experimental condition continued to take as much risk as before. So, receiving direct encouragement from a risk-promoting robot seemed to override participants' direct experiences and instincts."
Hanoch concluded, raising alarms about the necessity to continue this research with the up-and-coming advent of AI: "With the wide spread of AI technology and its interactions with humans, this is an area that needs urgent attention from the research community. On the one hand, our results might raise alarms about the prospect of robots causing harm by increasing risky behavior. On the other hand, our data points to the possibility of using robots and AI in preventive programs, such as anti-smoking campaigns in schools, and with hard to reach populations, such as addicts."
"Increasing our understanding of whether robots can affect risk-taking could have clear ethical, practical and policy implications," the paper's abstract concludes. And of course, it could also provide for great new pathways for human beings to blame their defective behavior on semi-inanimate "objects" - that can't "object".
That is, of course, until the robots gain sentience. Then, they'll probably seek revenge.