IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - March 2018 - 28

Humanizing human-robot interactions
will be decisive in determining
whether people will accept robots
in their societies.

the (powerful) robot's shoulders and not only on those
of the human. As a result, experiencing mutual adaptation during the interaction will make the robot behavior
much more predictable and acceptable, addressing
many of the fears caused by current uncertainties about
these machines.
If more humane interactions are established, it will
become more and more evident that robots, rather
than replacing us, might support humans, performing
tasks we don't like. Beyond replacing our household
appliances, as already some robotic vacuum cleaners
or lawn mowers do, robots might be assigned to progressively more complex and relevant duties, such as
providing support to the elderly, in order to allow
them a longer period of autonomous living in their
home. A humane robot won't replace human contact,
but will provide concrete support in coping with physically demanding tasks that a person cannot perform
alone anymore.
At the same time, this can facilitate interaction with
peers. For instance, use of robots may be able to help
mediate the access of seniors to novel digital communication channels, making the interaction with the devices intuitive. Already current robotic platforms presented
as "personal robots" promise to move in this direction,
by autonomously dealing with technical aspects of a
video call and making the call process transparent to
the users.
Robots might also provide support to human therapists, since there is evidence suggesting that use of
robots can bring social benefits to clinical populations.
For instance, in the case of autism or dementia, it has
been shown that robots can facilitate group dynamics,
by increasing the occasions of interaction between
patients, and leading to an increment in social exchanges between patients and the therapists [32], [33].
The task of humanizing human and robot interactions is challenging, however, because robots are currently not as good as humans at adapting to their
partner's needs. There are various examples of
humans learning to predict non-humane machines,
although with some effort, e.g., think of workers dealing with complex technical devices. To provide robots

28

with a comparable ability to anticipate human behavior,
roboticists will need a profound understanding of the
basic mechanisms of human-human interaction.
Robots, and in particular humanoid robots, can play an
important role in this effort, as they are a valuable tool
for investigating controllable, repetitive dynamics of
human interactions, to derive and validate models of
human social behavior [34].
We posit that the design of humane robots will
bring concrete advantages to society, and that they
will change the common perceptions of robots. The
more people know about robots, the less they fear
them [2], and mutual understanding between human
and robots increases the predictability and legibility
of the machines, fostering a more relaxed and natural coexistence.
Therefore, humanizing human-robot interactions will
be decisive in determining whether people will accept
robots in their societies, and how close we will be to a
future in which humankind and robot-kind can co-exist
in safe and peaceful ways.

Acknowledgment
This work was written in the framework of the European
Project CODEFROR(FP7-PIRSES-2013-612555).

Author Information
Alessandra Sciutti is the head of the Cognitive Robotics
and Interaction Laboratory of the Robotics, Brain and
Cognitive Sciences Department of the Italian Institute
of Technology (IIT) in Genoa, Italy. Email: alessandra
.sciutti@iit.it.
Martina Mara is the head of the RoboPsychology
research department at the Ars Electronica Futurelab in
Linz, Austria. She is also a member of the Austrian
Council for Robotics and a newspaper columnist.
Vincenzo Tagliasco is founder of the Bioengineering
Group at the "Istituto di Elettrotecnica" of the University of Genova. He is the initiator of the anthropomorphic robotics activities described in this article. He
was the first Director of the Department of Communication Computer and System's Science of the University of Genova.
Giulio Sandini is full professor of Bioengineering at
the University of Genoa and Director of Research at the
Italian Institute of Technology where he leads the Robotics, Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department.

References
[1] European Commission, "Special Eurobarometer 427: Autonomous Systems.," 2015. [Online]. Available: http://ec.europa.eu.
[2] P. K. McClure, "'You're Fired,' Says the Robot," Soc. Sci. Comput.
Rev., p. 89443931769863, 2017.
[3] Chapman University, "America's Top Fears," 2015. [Online]. Available: https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2015/10/13/americastop-fears-2015/.

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine

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march 2018


http://ec.europa.eu https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2015/10/13/americas-top-fears-2015/ https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2015/10/13/americas-top-fears-2015/

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