Working with robots may make people lazier, shows study

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When robots and humans work together, do humans become lazier?

The answer might be a little surprising. At the Technical University of Berlin, researchers looked into this question.

They wanted to know if people let their guard down when robots are around, thinking, “Oh, the robot’s got this.”

Have you ever been in a group project where someone does most of the work and others just relax? This is called “social loafing.”

The researchers wondered if the same thing happens when the hardworking “someone” is a robot.

They got 42 people to look at images of circuit boards (those green boards with lots of tiny components).

These boards were blurry. But when you hovered a mouse over them, the image cleared up. The idea was to find mistakes on these boards.

Half the group was told a robot named Panda already checked these boards. The people didn’t work right beside Panda, but they knew it was there and could hear it working.

After the task, everyone was asked some questions about how hard they worked, how they felt about their performance, and how responsible they felt for the task.

At first, everything looked the same for both groups. Everyone spent similar time inspecting the boards. They also felt the same about their responsibility, effort, and performance.

But, there was a twist! The group that knew about Panda started missing more mistakes as the task went on. Even though Panda had flagged many errors, this group became less careful.

It’s like they were looking without really seeing. They might have thought, “Panda’s so good, it probably caught everything already.”

Dr. Linda Onnasch, one of the researchers, pointed out that just because we’re looking at something doesn’t mean we’re really “seeing” it. Our brains might not process everything.

This could be a problem, especially in jobs where safety is crucial. If someone thinks a robot has already checked something, they might not double-check as thoroughly. If you’re working for a short time, the drop in carefulness might be small. But imagine working a whole day and relying on a robot’s earlier check. Mistakes might slip through!

Now, this study wasn’t perfect. The participants knew they were being observed, so they might have acted differently.

And, they didn’t directly work with Panda; they just knew it was there. As Dietlind Helene Cymek, another researcher, said, real-world tests with actual workers teaming up with robots are needed.

Key Takeaways

Robots are cool, and they can do a lot. But when we team up with them, we have to remember not to get too relaxed.

We still need to keep our eyes open and brains sharp.

After all, even the best teammate (human or robot) can make mistakes, and two sets of eyes are always better than one!

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