At the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, researchers are trying to trick babies into thinking robots are sentient, because that’s hilarious. Well, okay, they’re actually trying to figure out how babies delineate between sentient beings and non-sentient objects. In one experiment they’ve tried, babies watched a researcher interact with a robot for 90 seconds as if it were a child. Afterward, the robot would turn its head to look at a toy.
In 13 out of 16 cases, the baby would follow the robot’s gaze, suggesting that the baby sees the robot as a sentient being, that what the robot looks at might be of interest to the baby as well. Babies at that age distinguish between, say, a swivel chair’s movement and a person’s movement, and will only follow the person. But in following the robot, the study suggests that the baby has decided that robot is a human being. [PopSci]
That’s a bit of a stretch, but it does suggest they see the robot as a sentient creature — not necessarily human — after someone else interacts with it socially. When the babies were shown the robot but the researcher didn’t interact with it socially, only three out of sixteen kids followed the robot’s gaze. If babies might confuse friendly robots with humans, will they also confuse a cat in a battle tank with humans? No, but this is a flimsy excuse to post a video of Elvis the robokitty anyway: