Are Robots Replacing Humans as Dog’s Best Friend?

By Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell |

Millions of factory line workers have watched robots take over their jobs in recent decades, and now a new study suggests that dog parents could be replaced by social robots if they so choose.

A recent study, published in Animal Cognition found that dogs interacted with robots that behaved socially towards them, even if the devices looked nothing like a human.

The study, conducted by the Hungarian Academy of Science and Eötvös Loránd University tested 41 dogs that were divided into two groups depending on the nature of human-robot interaction: 'asocial' or 'social.' One set of dogs in the 'asocial group' first observed an interaction between two humans (the owner and the human experimenter) and then observed an 'asocial' interaction between the owner and the robot. The remaining dogs in this group participated in these interactions in the reverse order.

In the 'social group,' one set of dogs watched an interaction between the owner and the human experimenter followed by observing a 'social' interaction between the owner and the robot. The remaining dogs in this group also participated in these interactions in the reverse order. These interactions were followed by sessions in which either the human experimenter or the robot pointed out the location of hidden food in both the 'asocial' and the 'social' groups.

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The robots were either programmed to operate like a machine or in a human like manner.

The robots used in the experiment didn't look like a human, but instead resembled a piece of gym equipment with an "arm" that extended that had a white glove. When programmed to behave in a human like manner, the robot could also interact with the dogs by speaking to them.

When near the robots programmed to behave like humans, the dogs spent more time with them and they also gazed at the robot's "head," which was a computer screen.

The results also showed that the dogs found food pointed out by the robot that acted human toward them, but still not on a level that they interact with real humans.

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Researchers believe the results were also due in part, to the dogs observing their owners interact with the robots that behaved like humans.

Gabriella Lakatos, lead author of the study, says the study provides important insights into the mental processes of living creatures, as well as information about how social robots should be designed. "Roboticists who design interactive robots should look into the sociality and behavior of their designs, even if they do not embody human-like characteristics," Lakatos advises.

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