Video A study by Stanford University has shown that human volunteers demonstrated "physiological arousal" when a robot instructed them to touch it up.
The research found humans instructed to touch a two-foot tall robot on the buttocks or eyes had a measurable increase in skin conductance, a sign of emotional arousal. They were also more hesitant to touch, and maintained contact for a shorter period.
"Our work shows that robots are a new form of media that is particularly powerful. It shows that people respond to robots in a primitive, social way," said Stanford PhD student Jamy Li.
"Social conventions regarding touching someone else's private parts apply to a robot's body parts as well. This research has implications for both robot design and theory of artificial systems."
The 26 tests used a mix of 10 male and female volunteers who were placed in a room with the robot. The machine, an Aldebaran Robotics' NAO, then instructed them to touch one of 13 body parts using their dominant hands and while wearing a skin conductivity sensor on the other.
Touching areas perceived as private made the skin more moist, the researchers found. That doesn't mean that they were turned on by the experience, merely that it provoked some rather primal feelings in the participants.
Human/robot relationships have been a trope of science fiction since Fritz Lang's 1927 classic Metropolis, and the idea has been upgraded as technology advances. Some academics feel the reality would be damaging to humans, while others say that attitudes will change and robots will handle the sex trade in the not-too-distant future.
But it's not just about the smuttier side of life. Robots are increasingly being designed to help with elderly populations, where emotional bonds are important to the health of the patient.
The full paper on the study will be presented in June at the 66th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association in Fukuoka, Japan. ®