A University of Essex study found that high-tech robots are held more responsible than regular combat machines for deaths in identical incidents.

A study led by Dr. Rael Dawtry of the university’s psychology department found that humans perceive robots to be more culpable.

“Some tasks, such as autonomous driving or military use of robots, pose a threat to human safety, which raises questions about how and where liability is determined when autonomous robots harm people,” Dawtry noted.

“This is an important issue for lawmakers and policymakers to wrestle with, such as the use of autonomous weapons and human rights.”

“Our research contributes to these discussions by examining how ordinary people explain the harmful behavior of robots and by showing that the same processes that underlie human attributions lead people to blame robots.”

As part of the study, Dr. Dawtry presented different scenarios to more than 400 people. One scenario envisioned a teenage girl’s death being caused by an armed humanoid robot. In another scenario, people fatally shot a civilian with their machine guns during a raid on a terrorist compound.

When reviewing the incident, participants blamed the robot more, despite the results being the same.

Other studies have shown that simply labeling various devices as “autonomous robots” leads people to hold them accountable, compared to labeling them “machines”.

Dr Dawtry added that these findings show that how robots’ autonomy is perceived – and in turn, when robots are at fault – is very subtly influenced by how they are described.

“One implication of our findings is that as robots become objectively more sophisticated or simply made to appear so, they are more likely to be blamed.”

Source: Science Daily