IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - March 2018 - 23

On the Importance
of Mutual Understanding

machines? What new skills do we need to understand the robots?"
We think that these questions are being posed from
the wrong point of view. It is not that we, the ever growing number of robot users, should be the ones who
need to acquire new competencies. On the contrary, we
want to ask how the robots that will soon be popping up
all over the place can adjust to their human interaction
partners in better ways. What do the robots have to
learn to be considerate of people and, no less important, be perceived as considerate by people? Which
skills do they need, what do they have to learn to make
cooperation with humans possible and comfortable?
Coming from various disciplinary backgrounds rooted in robotics, cognitive science, psychology, and communication, these are the shared questions on which
we have based our approach to humanize human-robot
interaction (HRI). It is an approach that ultimately leads
us to the necessity of mutual understanding between
humans and machines - and therefore to a new design
paradigm in which collaborative machines not only
must be able to anticipate their human partner's goals
but at the same time enable the human partner to anticipate their own goals as well.
We will be elaborating on several important design
factors in each respective area. Even if they don't constitute an all-encompassing concept, we are convinced
that they build a solid basis and an effective strategy
for the development of humane robots. (We adopt here
the "Cambridge Dictionary definition of humane: "showing kindness, care, and sympathy towards others,
especially those who are suffering.") Moreover, we think
that robots that are designed for mutual understanding can also make a positive impact on the subjective
psychological experience of human-robot interactions
and enhance public acceptance of robotic technologies in general.

People's Fears of Robots
At present there is still much skepticism on the part of
some groups of potential users towards the increasing
deployment of robots in domestic environments and,
exceedingly, in workplaces. According to a recent largescale survey in the European Union, approximately
march 2018

∕

70 percent of people think that robots will steal people's jobs and around 90 percent say that the implementation of robots in society needs careful management
[1]. In relation to these numbers, a much smaller but
still sizeable population could be called "technophobes" or "robophobes" [2], defined as individuals
who are anxious towards smart machines on a personal level. The Chapman University Survey of American
Fears [3] revealed in this regard that 29 percent of U.S.
residents reported to be very afraid or afraid of robots
replacing workforce, a number comparable to the
occurrence of the fear of public speaking in the U.S.
population. Furthermore, 22 percent of participants
indicated being very afraid or afraid of artificial intelligence, and 19 percent of "technology I don't understand" [3]. The imagined substitution of human beings
by intelligent artificial agents has been repeatedly
described as a strong fear, reaching from the fear of job
loss relevant to everyday life [2], [4] to much vaguer
fears of an artificial "superintelligence" [38] that on its
own develops doubtful intentions, and, ultimately, a
"robocalyptic" end of humankind [5]. Science fiction, of
course, plays a role here. While some fictional stories
have been shown to generate meaning and thereby
increaserecipients' acceptance of robotic technology
[35], [37], many highly popular movies such as The Terminator, Blade Runner, or Ex Machina [38] circulate
dystopian outlooks and frequently encourage the audience to envision a militarized future of human-robot
relations [39].
Coming back to more contemporary, non-fictional
developments in robotics, various fears and ethical
concerns have been raised in view of so-called social
or "emotional" robots, meant to be used, e.g., for the
care of children or the elderly. A number of scholars
and study participants have expressed their worries
about such robotic companions as they might contribute to social isolation by reducing the amount of time
spent with other humans, lead to a loss of privacy and
liberty or to emotional manipulation of lonely, sensitive
persons [38], [40], [41], [43].
Besides being afraid of robotic surrogates or caregiver robots, however, there are other types of fears about
robots that have been noted as relevant in the literature.

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine

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