Even black robots are impacted by racism
Humans are likely to perceive an anthropomorphic robot to have a race–and they bring they’re race-related prejudices with them, a new study suggests.
To varying extents, we humans are familiar with humans’ racist tendencies toward one another. We may not be as aware that we can be racist toward robots too. A new study suggests that if robots have anthropomorphic features like eyes or a face, people will often look at the color of the machine and, if asked to, assign the robot a racial category. And when asked to respond to a threatening robot, humans are quicker to shoot black robots than white ones.
The researchers collected photos of people of different races and Nao, a humanoid robot, and changed the color of the robot’s shell to a variety of human skin tones. Their experimental setup relied on the “shooter bias” procedure, which has participants playing the role of a police officer who has to decide if they should or shouldn’t shoot their gun when shown different images. Those photos had a person or Nao in it, either holding a weapon in their hand or some other, benign object. The study subjects saw the picture for only a split second and were asked to act on instinct.
The study found that the participants were faster to shoot an armed black human and robot than they were to shoot their white counterparts. The study subjects–the majority of whom identified as white–were also faster to refrain from shooting unarmed white humans and robots than unarmed black figures.
“The level of agreement amongst participants when it came to their explicit attributions of the race was especially striking,” the researchers write. “Participants were able to easily and confidently identify the race of robots according to their racialization and their performance in the shooter bias task was informed by such social categorization processes. Thus, there is also a clear sense in which these robots–and by extension other humanoid robots–do have the race.”