Scientists put an interactive robot in an enclosure inhabited by 16 chimpanzees. Their reactions were surprisingly similar to those of humans, opening up potential new ways to observe them without humans being present.
Scientists from the University of Portsmouth and Yerkes Primate Nature Center allowed 16 chimpanzees to see them interacting with a robot — one that looked like a human doll but could make sounds and gestures like a human or a chimpanzee — before giving the robot to them. Almost all of them communicated actively with the robot in some way, with some giving it toys and others banging on the side of the cage to get its attention. Team member and University of Portsmouth lecturer Marina Davila-Ross says the chimps “recognised and showed increased interest when the robot imitated their body movements…[but] were less interested when the robot imitated the bodily movements of a human.” One chimp even laughed at the robot, which showed evidence of full social interaction.
What’s the Big Idea?
Davila-Ross says, “[Humans] know that a robot cannot feel or even fully respond to us, but the temptation to try is irresistible. We even respond positively when they smile.” The same seems to be true for chimps, which opens up the possibility for future observations of more complex social behaviors involving an interactive “someone.” A paper describing the experiment was published in Animal Cognition.
“It never hurts to dream impossible dreams,” Booker told Big Think, as “you never know they might come true.” So if he could have one superpower it would be “control over time,” Booker said. “Because that’s really my only enemy.