Moving America Forward

Why Don’t Old People Like Talking to Robots?

January 6, 2014
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Why Don’t Old People Like Talking to Robots?
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Studying the interactions can help make the sci-fi scenario of helper robots a reality.

The 2012 movie Robot and Frank imagined a not-too-distant America in which companion robots are used to assist the elderly in daily living. It’s not so far-fetched — many researchers are working to make this sci-fi scenario a reality in the U.S. (Robots already assist with elder care in Japan.) But a new study suggests that older Americans might not feel comfortable with an automated assistant. Researchers at the universities of Notre Dame and Missouri studied 65 seniors in an elder-care setting, and noted how they gave a robot directions, such as to fetch their glasses in a different room. Then the researchers compared how the seniors communicated the same request to a fellow human, and found that the seniors spoke conversationally with people, while using terser, more direction-oriented requests with the robots. Both ways get the job done, but the seniors reported preferring to speak with the human. Studying the exact words seniors use to talk to robots is important so scientists can program robots accurately, and better understand how to make machines serve man more effectively.

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