Study Says People Hold Racial Bias Toward Robots

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Matt M. Miller Contributor
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People perceive robots to have a human race corresponding to their physical features and color, according to a study the Human Interface Technology Laboratory in New Zealand conducted.

The 2018 study called “Robots And Racism” indicates that a robot’s color will determine how it is racially perceived. This supposedly explains why so many robots happen to be white in color: due to alleged racial preferences, the study said.

“The bias against black robots is a result of bias against African-Americans,” lead researcher Christoph Bartneck told The Next Web in July.

“It is amazing to see how people who had no prior interaction with robots show racial bias towards them,” he said to CNN.

The researchers expressed concerns with this phenomenon, suggesting racial bias toward robots could pose a problem once robots become an integral part of everyday life.

“If robots are supposed to function as teachers, friends, or carers, for instance, then it will be a serious problem if all of these roles are only ever occupied by robots that are racialized as White,” the study reads. (RELATED: Yang Blames Labor Woes On ‘Robots And Machines’)

The study included projections of humanoid robots, colored both white and black, on a screen that participants were told to shoot at with a fake gun before the image disappeared. The robots appeared on the screen for less than a second, and participants were instructed to shoot only at robots holding weapons. Black colored robots not holding weapons were shot at more than white robots not holding weapons, according to the study.

The study involved 163 participants from the U.S., 80 males and 83 females, 126 of which identified as white or European American, 21 identified as Hispanic or Latino American, seven as black, three as Asian American, two as Native American and four as other, the report said. The University of Canterbury published the study.

“Human-shaped robots should represent the diversity of humans,” Bartneck said.

“Imagine a world in which all Barbie dolls are white. Imagine a world in which all the robots working in Africa or India are white. Further imagine that these robots take over roles that involve authority. Clearly, this would raise concerns about imperialism and white supremacy,” he continued.

The Human Interface Technology Laboratory conducted a second study in January including light-brown robots among the black and white ones. In this version of the experiment, participants’ color biases virtually disappeared, CNN reported Thursday.

The “diversification of robots might lead to a reduction in racial bias towards them,” the study says.

“This leads me to believe that we have everything to win by offering racial options and nothing to lose,” Bartneck told CNN.

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