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Study: Trash-Talking Robots Can Hurt Your Delicate Feelings

November 22nd 19__Kristin Houser__Filed Under: Artificial Intelligence
Images via Pixabay/Victor Tangermann

Smack Talk

Not only can robots beat humans at games, it turns out they can effectively trash talk us during them, too.

For a new yet-to-be-peer-reviewed study, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University programmed humanoid robot Pepper to talk smack to humans while playing a strategy game against them — and despite the relatively tame nature of the bot’s insults, it was still able to get into its opponents’ heads and negatively affect their gameplay.

Thin Skin

As part of the study, 40 participants competed against Pepper in 35 games each of “Guards and Treasures,” a game researchers use to study rationality.

Sometimes, the robot said encouraging words to its opponents. At other times, it hit them with such scathing insults as “I have to say you are a terrible player” and “Over the course of the game, your playing has become confused.”

The takeaway? The CMU team found that the human players performed better when the robot encouraged them and worse when it talked trash.

Influential AI

The knowledge that a robot can affect human rationality with just a few words could prove incredibly valuable as artificial intelligences become more integrated into our society.

“This is one of the first studies of human-robot interaction in an environment where they are not cooperating,” co-author Fei Fang said in a news release, adding that “we can expect home assistants to be cooperative, but in situations such as online shopping, they may not have the same goals as we do.”

READ MORE: Trash Talk Hurts, Even When It Comes From a Robot [Carnegie Mellon University]

More on Pepper: New Roundup Ranks the World’s Robots by Creepiness