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This paper discusses the issues pertinent to the development of a meaningful social interaction between robots and people through employing degrees of anthropomorphism in a robot’s physical design and behaviour. As robots enter our social space, we will inherently project/impose our interpretation on their actions similar to the techniques we employ in rationalising, for example, a pet’s behaviour. This propensity to anthropomorphise is not seen as a hindrance to social robot development, but rather a useful mechanism that requires judicious examination and employment in social robot research.
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Robotics and Autonomous Systems 42 (2003) 177–190
Anthropomorphism and the social robot
Brian R. Duffy
Media Lab Europe, Sugar House Lane, Bellevue, Dublin 8, Ireland
Abstract
This paper discusses the issues pertinent to the development of a meaningful social interaction between robots and people
through employing degrees of anthropomorphism in a robot’s physical design and behaviour. As robots enter our social space,
we will inherently project/impose our interpretation on their actions similar to the techniques we employ in rationalising, for
example, a pet’s behaviour. This propensity to anthropomorphise is not seen as a hindrance to social robot development, but
rather a useful mechanism that requires judicious examination and employment in social robot research.
© 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Anthropomorphism; Social robots; Humanoid; Artificial intelligence; Artificial emotion
1. Introduction
With technology starting to provide us with quite
robust solutions to technical problems that have con-
strained robot development over the years, we are be-
coming closer to the integration of robots into our
physical and social environment. The humanoid form
has traditionally been seen as the obvious strategy
for integrating robots successful into these environ-
ments with many consequently arguing that the ul-
timate quest of many roboticists today is to build a
fully anthropomorphic synthetic human. It should be
noted that anthropomorphism in this paper is the ra-
tionalisation of animal or system behaviour through
superposing aspects of the human observer and is dis-
cussed in depth in Section 3. The term robot refers to
the physical manifestation of a system in our physical
and social space, and as such, virtual characters and/or
avatar-based interfaces are not discussed in this work.
This paper discusses the use of anthropomorphic
paradigms to augment the functionality and be-
Tel.: +353-1-474-2823; fax: +353-1-474-2809.
E-mail address: brd@media.mit.edu (B.R. Duffy).
havioural characteristics of a robot (both anticipatory
and actual) in order that we can relate to and rationalise
its actions with greater ease. The use of human-like
features for social interaction with people (i.e. [1–3])
can facilitate our social understanding. It is the ex-
plicit designing of anthropomorphic features, such
as a head with eyes and a mouth that may facilitate
social interaction. This highlights the issue that social
interaction is fundamentally observer-dependent, and
exploring the mechanisms underlying anthropomor-
phism provides the key to the social features required
for a machine to be socially engaging.
1.1. The robot
The Webster’s Dictionary defines a robot as: “any
manlike mechanical being, by any mechanical device
operated automatically, esp. by remote control, to per-
form in a seemingly human way.” Through popular
interpretations, this definition already draws associ-
ations between a robot and man. And in looking to
define a social robot, the following has been proposed:
“A physical entity embodied in a complex, dynamic,
and social environment sufficiently empowered to
0921-8890/03/$ – see front matter © 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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178 B.R. Duffy/Robotics and Autonomous Systems 42 (2003) 177–190
behave in a manner conducive to its own goals and
those of its community” [4].
There is a two-way interaction between a robot and
that which it becomes socially engaged with, whether
another robot or a person. It is in embracing the phys-
ical and social embodiment issues that a system can
be termed a “social robot” [4]. This paper deals with
human–robot interaction, which is proposed as the pri-
mary motivation for employing anthropomorphism in
robotic systems (see [4] for explicit robot–robot social
interaction).
A robot’s capacity to be able to engage in meaning-
ful social interaction with people inherently requires
the employment of a degree of anthropomorphic, or
human-like, qualities whether in form or behaviour
or both. But it is not a simple problem. As discussed
by Foner [5], people’s expectations based on strong
anthropomorphic paradigms in HCI overly increase a
user’s expectations of the system’s performance. Sim-
ilarly in social robotics, the ideal paradigm should not
necessarily be a synthetic human. Successful design
in both software and robots in HCI needs to involve a
balance of illusion that leads the user to believe in the
sophistication of the system in areas where the user
will not encounter its failings, which the user is told
not to expect. Making social robots too human-like
may also defeat the purpose of robots in society (to
aid humans). For example, perhaps a robot who comes
across as too intelligent may be perceived as more self-
ish or as prone to weaknesses as humans, and thus not
as desirable as a reliable entity. The issue of the so-
cial acceptance of robots is not discussed here, but is
important in the greater debate regarding the context
and degree of social integration of robots into people’s
social and physical space.
The social robot can be perceived as the interface
between man and technology. It is the use of socially
acceptable functionality in a robotic system that helps
break down the barrier between the digital information
space and people. It may herald the first stages where
people stop perceiving machines as simply tools.
2. The big AI cheat
Are social robots, with embedded notions of iden-
tity and the ability to develop social models of those
that it engages with, capable of achieving that age-old
pursuit of artificial intelligence (AI)? Can the illusion
of life and intelligence emerge through simply engag-
ing people in social interaction? How much can this
illusion emerge through people’s tendency to project
intelligence and anthropomorphise?
According to the Machiavellian (or Social)
Intelligence Hypothesis, primate intelligence
originally evolved to solve social problems and was
only later extended to problems outside the social do-
main (recent discussion in [6]). Will AI effectively be
achieved through robot “intelligence” evolving from
solving social problems to later extending to problems
outside the problem domain? If the robot “cheats”
to appear intelligent, can this be maintained over
time? Does it matter if it cheats? Is it important what
computational strategies are employed to achieve
this illusion? The principles employed in realising a
successful “illusion of life” in Walt Disney’s famous
cartoon characters [7] have been well documented.
While inspiration can be constructively drawn on how
to apply similar strategies to designing social robots
and create the illusion of life and intelligence, the
problem for the functional design of the social robot
is much more complex, of course, than cartoon char-
acters as behind each character is a puppet master.
While behind each robot lies a designer, the issue
of physical embodiment and a robot’s autonomy ef-
fectively distances the designer over time (analogous
to the Classical AI failings demonstrated with the
robot “Shakey” [8]). While the robot’s form can be
quite static after deployment, the design and, just as
importantly, the maintenance of social behavioural
functionality (inspired for example by Thomas and
Johnston [7]) is by no means a trivial issue.
Proponents of strong AI believe that it is possi-
ble to duplicate human intelligence in artificial sys-
tems where the brain is seen as a kind of biological
machine that can be explained and duplicated in an
artificial form. This mechanistic view of the human
mind argues that essentially understanding the com-
putational processes that govern the brains character-
istics and function would reveal how people think and
effectively provide an understanding of how to realise
an artificially created intelligent system with emotions
and consciousness.
On the other hand, followers of weak AI believe
that the contradictory term “artificial intelligence” im-
plies that human intelligence can only be simulated.
B.R. Duffy/Robotics and Autonomous Systems 42 (2003) 177–190 179
An artificial system could only give the illusion of
intelligence (i.e. the system exhibits those properties
that are associated with being intelligent). In adopting
this weak AI stance, artificial intelligence is an oxy-
moron. The only way an artificial system can become
“intelligent” is if it cheats, as the primary reference is
not artificial. A social robot could be the key to the
great AI cheat as it involves another’s perception and
interpretation of its actions.
This paper follows the stance of weak AI where
computational machines, sensory and actuator func-
tionality are merely a concatenation of processes and
can lead to an illusion of intelligence in a robot pri-
marily through projective intelligence on the part of
the human observer/participant (see a discussion of
autopoiesis and allopoiesis regarding physical and so-
cial embodiment in [4]).
2.1. Projective intelligence
In adopting the weak AI stance, the issue will not
be whether a system is fundamentally intelligent but
rather if it displays those attributes that facilitate or
promote people’s interpretation of the system as being
intelligent.
In seeking to propose a test to determine whether
a machine could think, Alan Turing came up in 1950
with what has become well known as the Turing Test
[9]. The test is based on whether a machine could trick
a person into believing they were chatting with an-
other person via computer or at least not be sure that
it was “only” a machine. This approach is echoed in
Minsky’s original 1968 definition of AI as “[t]he sci-
ence of making machines do things that would require
intelligence if done by [people])”.
In the same line of thought, Weizenbaum’s 1960
conversational computer program Eliza [10], em-
ployed standard tricks and sets of scripts to cover
up its lack of understanding to questions it was not
pre-programmed for. It has proved successful to the
degree that people have been known to form enough
attachment to the program that they have shared
personal experiences.
It can be argued that the Turing Test is a game based
on the over-simplification of intrinsic intelligence and
allows a system to have tricks to fool people into con-
cluding that a machine is intelligent. But how can one
objectify one’s observations of a system and not suc-
cumb to such tricks and degrees of anthropomorphis-
ing and projective intelligence? Does it matter how a
system achieves its “intelligence”, i.e. what particular
complex computational mechanisms are employed?
Employing successful degrees of anthropomorphism
with cognitive ability in social robotics will provide
the mechanisms whereby the robot could successfully
pass the age-old Turing Test for intelligence assess-
ment (although, strictly speaking, the Turing Test
requires a degree of disassociation from that which is
being measured and consequently the physical man-
ifestation of a robot would require a special variation
of the Turing Test). The question then remains as to
what aspects increase our perception of intelligence;
i.e. what design parameters are important in creat-
ing a social robot that can pass this variation of the
Turing test.
2.2. Perceiving intelligence
Experiments have highlighted the influence of ap-
pearance and voice/speech on people’s judgements of
another’s intelligence. The more attractive a person,
the more likely others would rate the person as more
intelligent [11,12]. However, when given the chance
to hear a person speak, people seem to rate intelli-
gence of the person more on verbal cues than the
person’s attractiveness [12]. Exploring the impact of
such hypotheses to HCI, Kiesler and Goetz [13] un-
dertook experimentation with a number of robots to
ascertain if participants interacting with robots drew
similar assessments of “intelligence”. The experiments
were based on visual, audio and audiovisual interac-
tions. Interestingly the results showed strong correla-
tions with Alicke et al.’s and Borkenau’s experiments
with people–people judgements.
Such experimentation provides important clues on
how we can successfully exploit elements of anthropo-
morphism in social robotics. It becomes all the more
important therefore that our interpretations of what is
anthropomorphism and how to successfully employ it
are adequately studied.
3. Anthropomorphism
This paper has thus far loosely used the term anthro-
pomorphism; however, it is used in different senses
180 B.R. Duffy/Robotics and Autonomous Systems 42 (2003) 177–190
throughout the natural sciences, psychology, and HCI.
Anthropomorphism (from the Greek word anthropos
for man, and morphe, form/structure), as used in this
paper, is the tendency to attribute human characteris-
tics to inanimate objects, animals and others with a
view to helping us rationalise their actions. It is at-
tributing cognitive or emotional states to something
based on observation in order to rationalise an entity’s
behaviour in a given social environment. This ratio-
nalisation is reminiscent of what Dennett calls the in-
tentional stance, which he explains as “the strategy
of interpreting the behaviour of an entity (person, an-
imal, artifact, whatever) by treating it as if it were a
rational agent who governed its ‘choice’ of ‘action’ by
a ‘consideration’ of its ‘beliefs’ and ‘desires”’ [14].
This is effectively the use of projective intelligence to
rationalise a system’s actions.
This phenomenon of ascribing human-like charac-
teristics to non-human entities has been exploited in
religion to recent animation films like “Chicken Run”
(Aardman Animations, 2000) or “Antz” (DreamWorks
& SKG/PDI, 1998).
Few psychological experiments have rigorously
studied the mechanisms underlying anthropomor-
phism where only a few have seen it as worthy of
study in its own right (for example [15–17]). The role
of anthropomorphism in science has more commonly
been considering it as a hindrance when confounded
with scientific observation rather than an object to be
studied more objectively.
Is it possible to remove anthropos from our sci-
ence when we are the observers and build the devices
to measure? Krementsov and Todes [18] comment
that “the long history of anthropomorphic metaphors,
however, may testify to their inevitability”. If we are
unable to decontextualise our perceptions of a given
situation from ourselves, then condemning anthropo-
morphism will not help. Caporael [15] proposes that
if we are therefore unable to remove anthropomor-
phism from science, we should at least “set traps for
it” in order to be aware of its presence in scientific
assessment.
Kennedy goes as far as to say that anthropomor-
phic interpretation “is a drag on the scientific study of
the causal mechanisms” [19]. Building social robots
forces a new perspective on this. When interaction
with people are the motivation for social robot re-
search, then people’s perceptual biases have an in-
fluence on how the robot is realised. The question
arising in this paper is not how to avoid anthropo-
morphism, but rather how to embrace it in the field
of social robots.
Shneiderman [20] takes the extreme view of the
role of anthropomorphism in HCI by stating that
people employing anthropomorphism compromise in
the design, leading to issues of unpredictability and
vagueness. He emphasises the importance of clear,
comprehensible and predictable interfaces that support
direct manipulation. Shneiderman’s comment touches
on a problem which is not fundamentally a fault of an-
thropomorphic features, but a fault of the HCI design-
ers in not trying to understand people’s tendency to
anthropomorphise, and thus they indiscriminately ap-
ply certain anthropomorphic qualities to their design
which only lead to user over-expectation and disap-
pointments when the system fails to perform to these
expectations. The assumption has generally been that
the creation of even crude computer “personalities”
necessarily requires considerable computing power
and realistic human-like representations. Since much
of the resources tend to be invested in these rep-
resentations, Shneiderman’s sentiments seem more
a response to the lack of attention to other equally
important issues in the design. Such unmotivated
anthropomorphic details may be unnecessary; as in-
vestigations show that using simple scripting of text
demonstrates that “even minimal cues can mindlessly
evoke a wide range of scripts, with strong attitudinal
and behavioural consequences” [21].
Even if this were not the case, Shneiderman’s argu-
ment is valid when the system in question is intended
asatool and not when the attempt is to develop a so-
cial intelligent entity. The question of how to develop
AI in social robotics effectively requires human-like
traits, as the goal is a human-centric machine. In the
social setting, anthropomorphic behaviour may easily
be as clear, comprehensible and predictable interfaces
(and of course there must be a balance).
Moreover, Shneiderman’s hesitancy with the role
of anthropomorphism in HCI is based on obscuring
the important distinction of metaphorical ascription
of human-like qualities to non-human entities with
the actual explanation of others’ behaviours with
human-oriented intentions and mental states. As
Searle points out, there is an important, if subtle, dif-
ference in what he terms as-if intentionality used
B.R. Duffy/Robotics and Autonomous Systems 42 (2003) 177–190 181
to rationalise, say, a robot’s behaviour, and intrinsic
intentionality found in humans [22].
Nass and Moon [21] demonstrate through exper-
imentation that individuals “mindlessly apply social
rules and expectations to computers”. Interestingly, the
authors are against anthropomorphism as they base it
on a belief that the computer is not a person and does
not warrant human treatment or attribution. This high-
lights a predominant theme in HCI, which is to view
anthropomorphism as “portraying inanimate comput-
ers as having human-like personality or identity” [23],
or projecting intrinsic intentionality. This differs from
the broader psychological perspective of anthropomor-
phism, which also includes metaphorically ascribing
human-like qualities to a system based on one’s in-
terpretation of its actions. In this paper, anthropomor-
phism is a metaphor rather than an explanation of a
system’s behaviour.
The stigma of anthropomorphism in the natural sci-
ences is similarly partly based on a rationalisation of
animal or plant behaviour based on models of human
intentionality and behaviour. The stigma does not stem
from the appropriateness in describing the behaviour
in terms of anthropomorphic paradigms but rather in
cases when such paradigms are used as explanations
of its behaviour. Such “explanations” are incorrect, but
anthropomorphism is not restricted to only this. It also
encompasses facilitation.
3.1. Anthropomorphism and robots
Consequently, social robots should exploit people’s
expectations of behaviours rather than necessarily try-
ing to force people to believe that the robot has human
reasoning capabilities. Anthropomorphism should not
be seen as the “solution” to all human–machine inter-
action problems but rather it needs to be researched
more to provide the “language” of interaction between
man and machine. It can facilitate rather than constrain
the interaction because it incorporates the underlying
principles and expectations people use in social set-
tings in order to fine-tune the social robot’s interaction
with humans.
The role of anthropomorphism in robotics in gen-
eral should not be to build a synthetic human. Two
motivations for employing anthropomorphism are
firstly the design of a system that has to function in
our physical and social space (i.e. using our tools,
driving our cars, climbing stairs) and secondly, to take
advantage of it as a mechanism through which social
interaction with people can be facilitated. It constitutes
the basic integration/employment of “humanness” in
a system from its behaviours, to domains of expertise
and competence, to its social environment in addition
to its form. Once domestic robots progress from the
washing machine and start moving around our physi-
cal and social spaces, their role and our dealings with
them will change significantly. It is in embracing a
balance of these anthropomorphic qualities for boot-
strapping and their inherent advantage as machines,
rather than seeing this as a disadvantage, that will
lead to their success. The anthropomorphic design of
human–machine interfaces has been inevitable.
It can be argued that the first motivation listed above
does not constitute a strong argument as, for example,
general wheelchair access could negate the necessity
of highly energy consuming bipedal motion in robots.
Similarly, due to the mechanistic capabilities of robots,
the function or role of the robot in society should also
be aimed at undertaking those actions that, as a ma-
chine, it is inherently good at. This paper embraces the
second motivation of employing anthropomorphism,
that of facilitating human–robot interaction.
As pointed out previously, to avoid the common
HCI pitfall of missing the point of anthropomorphism,
the important criterion is to seek a balance between
people’s expectations and the machines capabilities.
Understanding the mechanisms underlying our ten-
dencies to anthropomorphise would lead to sets of
solutions in realising social robots, not just a sin-
gle engineering solution as found in only designing
synthetic humans (developed in Section 5).
Still the questions remain. Is there a notion of “op-
timal anthropomorphism”? What is the ideal set of
human features that could supplement and augment
a robot’s social functionality? When does anthropo-
morphism go too far? Using real-world robots poses
many interesting problems. Currently a robot’s phys-
ical similarity to a full body person is only starting
to embrace basic human-like attributes, and predom-
inantly the physical aspect in humanoid research (see
http://www.androidworld.com), but just as in HCI,
rigorous research is needed to identify the physical
attributes important in facilitating the social inter-
action. A robot not embracing the anthropomorphic
paradigm in some form is likely to result in a persistent
182 B.R. Duffy/Robotics and Autonomous Systems 42 (2003) 177–190
Fig. 1. Anthropomorphism design space for robot heads [26].
Notes: the diagram refers uniquely to the head construction and
ignores body function and form. This is also by no means an
exhaustive list. Examples were chosen to illustrate the proposed
idea (motivated by McCloud [27]).
bias against people being able to accept the social
robot into the social domain, which becomes apparent
when they ascribe mental states to them. As shown in
several psychological experiments and human–robot
interaction experiments [13,24] and pointed out by
Watt [25], familiarity may also ease social accep-
tance and even tend to increase people’s tendency to
anthropomorphise [16].
Fig. 1 provides an illustrative “map” of anthropo-
morphism as applied to robotic heads to date. The
three extremities of the diagram (human, iconic and
abstract) embrace the primary categorisations for
robots employing anthropomorphism to some degree.
“Human” correlates to an as-close-as-possible prox-
imity in design to the human head. “Iconic” seeks to
employ a very minimum set of features as often found
in comics that still succeed in being expressive. The
“Abstract” corner refers to more mechanistic func-
tional design of the robot with minimal human-like
aesthetics. An important question is how does one
manage anthropomorphism in robots. One question
is the degree and nature of visual anthropomorphic
features. Roboticists have recently started to address
what supplementary modalities to physical construc-
tion could be employed for the development of social
relationships between a physical robot and people.
Important arenas include expressive faces [1,2,28]
often highlighting the importance of making eye
contact and incorporating face and eye tracking sys-
tems. Examples demonstrate two methodologies that
employ either a visually iconic [1,29] or a strongly
realistic human-like construction (i.e. with synthetic
skin and hair) [2] for facial gestures in order to por-
tray artificial emotion states. The more iconic head
defines the degree of anthropomorphism that is em-
ployed in the robot’s construction and functional
capabilities. This constrains and effectively manages
the degree of anthropomorphism employed. Building
mannequin-like robotic heads, where the objective is
to hide the “robotic” element as much as possible and
blur the issue as to whether one is talking to a ma-
chine or a person, results in effectively unconstrained
anthropomorphism and a fragile manipulation of
robot–human social interaction, and is reminiscent of
Shneiderman’s discontent with anthropomorphism.
Mori nicely illustrated the problematic issues found
in developing anthropomorphic facial expressions on
robotic heads [2] with “The Uncanny Valley” [30]
(see Fig. 2). His thesis is that the more closely a robot
resembles the human, the more affection it can en-
gender through familiar human-like communication
references. However, there is a region in the design
space where the robot appears uncanny and weird.
Issues of speed, resolution and expression clarifica-
tion based on often very subtle actions provides for
a highly complex design arena. The example facial
expressions in [2] illustrate this problem.
Consequently, it can be argued that the most suc-
cessful implementation of expressive facial features
Fig. 2. Mori’s “The Uncanny Valley”.
B.R. Duffy/Robotics and Autonomous Systems 42 (2003) 177–190 183
is through more mechanistic and iconic heads such
as Anthropos and Joe [29] and Kismet [1]. Strong
human-like facial construction in robotics [2] has to
contend with the minute subtleties in facial expression,
a feat by no means trivial. Contrarily, it can be argued
that successful highly human-like facial expression is
an issue of resolution. Researchers are trying to bom-
bard the artificially intelligent robot enigma with few
looking for the key minimum features required to re-
alise an “intelligent” robot. Consequently, in seeking
to develop a social robot, the goal of many is the syn-
thetic realistic human. From an engineering perspec-
tive it is more difficult to realise strong anthropomor-
phism as found in synthetic humans, i.e. [2], but in
order to “solve” AI through hard research, it is a sim-
pler more justifiable route to take. A more stringent
research approach should not be to throw everything
at the problem and force some answer, however, con-
strained, but rather to explore and understand the min-
imal engineering solution needed to achieve a socially
capable artificial “being”. The hard engineering ap-
proach is not mutually exclusive of the solution to re-
alising the grail of AI. After all, engineering research
plays a strong role in AI research (especially robotics),
but the rest of AI research is why such engineering
feats are needed. The path to the solution should em-
brace a more holistic approach combining both engi-
neering solutions as well as tackling core AI research
questions, even knowing what “cheats” to employ. A
useful analogy is in not trying to replicate a bird in
order to fly but rather recognising those qualities that
lead to the invention of the plane.
From a social robotics perspective, it is not an is-
sue whether people believe that robots are “thinking”
but rather taking advantage of where people still have
certain social expectations in social settings. If one
bootstraps on these expectations, i.e. through exploit-
ing anthropomorphism, one can be more successful in
making the social robot less frustrating to deal with
and be perceived as more helpful.
Anthropomorphising robots is not without its prob-
lems. Incorporating life-like attributes evokes expec-
tations about the robot’s behavioural and cognitive
complexity that may not be maintainable [31].
Similarly it can be argued that this constrains the
range of possible interpretations of the robot depend-
ing on the person’s personality, preferences and the
social/cultural context. This in fact can be reversed
where constraining the robot to human-like character-
istics can facilitate interpretation.
4. Artificial sociability
It is then natural to discuss sociality of robots.
Artificial sociability in social robotics is the imple-
mentation of those techniques prevalent in human
social scenarios to artificial entities (such as commu-
nication and emotion) in order to facilitate the robot’s
and people’s ability to communicate.
The degree of social interaction is achieved through
a developmental and adaptive process. The minimum
requirement for social interaction is the ability in
some way to adapt to social situations and commu-
nicate understanding of these situations through, for
example a screen and keyboard or a synthetic speech
system in order to have the “data-transfer” required.
This functionality of communicating in addition to
emotive expression, extends to the development and
maintenance of complex social models and the ability
to competently engage in complex social scenarios.
4.1. Communication and emotion
Communication occurs in multiple modalities,
principally the auditory and visual fields. For artificial
sociability the social robot does not necessarily need
to be able to communicate information in as com-
plex a manner as people but just sufficient enough
for communication with people. For example, natural
language is inherently rich and thus can be fuzzy,
so strong anthropomorphism can have its limitations.
However, the social robot needs to be able to commu-
nicate enough to produce and perceive expressiveness
(as realised in speech, emotional expressions, and
other gestures). This anthropomorphic ability can
contribute to a person’s increased perception of the
social robot’s social capabilities (and hence accep-
tance as a participant in the human social circle).
Social competence is important in contributing to
people’s perception of another’s intelligence [23].
This ability to understand the emotions of others is
effectively the development of a degree of Emotional
Intelligence in a robotic system. Daniel Goleman, a
clinical psychologist, defines EI as “the ability to mon-
itor one’s own and others’ emotions, to discriminate
184 B.R. Duffy/Robotics and Autonomous Systems 42 (2003) 177–190
among them, and to use the information to guide
one’s thinking and actions” [32].
Goleman discusses five basic emotional competen-
cies: self-awareness, managing emotions, motivation,
empathy and social skills in the context of emotional
intelligence. This approach is a departure from the
traditional attitude, still prevalent, that intelligence
can be divided into the verbal and non-verbal (per-
formance) types, which are, in fact, the abilities
that the traditional IQ tests assess. While numerous
often-contradictory theories of emotion exist, it is
accepted that emotion involves a dynamic state that
consists of cognitive, physical and social events.
As the case of Phineas Gage in 1848 demonstrated,
an emotional capacity is fundamental towards the ex-
hibition of social functionality in humans (see [33]).
Salovey and Mayer [34] have reinforced the conclu-
sions that emotionality is an inherent property of so-
cial intelligence in discussing emotional intelligence
[33]. When coupled with Barnes and Thagard’s [35]
hypothesis that “emotions function to reduce and limit
our reasoning, and thereby make reasoning possible”,
a foundation for the implementation of an emotional
model in the development of a social robot becomes
apparent. A social robot requires those mechanisms
that facilitate its rationalisation of possibly over-
whelming complex social and physical environments.
From an observer perspective, one could pose the
question whether the attribution of artificial emotions
to a robot is analogous to the Clever Hans Error [36],
where the meaning and in fact the result is primarily
dependent on the observer and not the initiator. Pos-
sibly not. As emotions are fundamentally social at-
tributes, they constitute communicative acts from one
person to another. The emotions have a contextual
basis for interpretation, otherwise the communication
act of expressing an emotion may not be successful
and may be misinterpreted. The judicious use of the
expressive social functionality of artificial emotions
in social robotics is very important. As demonstrated
through numerous face robot research projects (i.e.
[2]), this treads a fine line between highly complex
expressive nuances and anticipated behaviour.
4.2. Social mechanisms
What are the motivations that people could have in
engaging in social interactions with robots? The need
to have the robot undertake a task, or satisfy a person’s
needs/requirements promotes the notion of realising a
mechanism for communication with the robot through
some form of social interaction.
It has often been said that the ultimate goal of the
human–computer interface should be for the interface
to “disappear”. Social robotics is an alternate approach
to ubiquitous computing. The interaction should be
rendered so transparent that people do not realise the
presence of the interface. As the social robot could be
viewed as the ultimate human–machine interface, it
should similarly display a seamless coherent degree of
social capabilities that are appropriate for interaction
and to it being a machine. What matters is the ease
and efficiency of communication with the robots, as
well as the assistants’ capabilities and persona.
This inherently necessitates that the robot be suf-
ficiently empowered through mechanisms of per-
sonality and identity traits to facilitate a human’s
acceptance of the robots own mechanisms for com-
munication and social interaction. It is important that
the robot not be perceived as having to perform in a
manner, which compromises or works against either
its physical or social capabilities. This argues against
the apparent necessity perceived by those building
strong humanoid robots to develop a full motion,
perception and aesthetic likeness to humans in a ma-
chine. Contrary to the popular belief that the human
form is the ideal general-purpose functional basis for
a robot, robots have the opportunity to become some-
thing different. Through the development of strong
mechanistic and biological solutions to engineering
and scientific problems including such measurement
devices as Geiger counters, infra-red cameras, sonar,
radar and bio-sensors, for example a robot’s function-
ality in our physical and social space is clear. It can
augment our social space rather than “take over the
world”. A robot’s form should therefore not adhere
to the constraining notion of strong humanoid func-
tionality and aesthetics but rather employ only those
characteristics that facilitate social interaction with
people when required.
In order to facilitate the development of complex
social scenarios, the use of basic social cues can boot-
strap a person’s ability to develop a social relationship
with a robot. Stereotypical communication cues pro-
vide obvious mechanisms for communication between
robots and people. Nodding or shaking of the head
B.R. Duffy/Robotics and Autonomous Systems 42 (2003) 177–190 185
are clear indications of acceptance or rejection (given
a defined cultural context). Similarly, work on facial
gestures with Kismet [1] and motion behaviours [3,37]
demonstrate how mechanistic-looking robots can be
engaging and can greatly facilitate ones willingness to
develop a social relationship robots.
Another technique to create an illusion of “life”
is to implement some form of unpredictability in the
motion and behaviour of the robot to make it appear
more “natural”. Such techniques as Perlin Noise [38]
have demonstrated the power of these strategies in
animation, surface textures, and shapes.
Section 5 draws on the previous issues raised with
a view to proposing a set of design criteria towards
successfully employing anthropomorphism in social
robots.
5. Achieving the balance
The previous sections have presented the issues per-
tinent to employing anthropomorphism in robotics,
particularly for social interaction with people. The
following criteria provide guidelines for those issues
deemed key to the successful realisation of a robot ca-
pable of such social interaction. This list does not aim
to describe the exact design methodologies for social
robotics as the search for the ultimate social robot is
not yet over, but rather provide useful concepts for an-
thropomorphism in social robot design methodology.
Use social communication conventions in function
and form. Social robotic research to date (between
robots and people) has practically universally em-
ployed some human-like features (primarily the
face, see Fig. 1). While the power of exploiting
those conventions we are familiar with for com-
munication is obvious, it is important to achieve
the balance between mechanistic solutions and the
human reference. An illustrative example would be
a simple box on a table equipped with a speaker
saying “no” and a robot head with two eyes turning
to look straight at you and saying “no”. The sys-
tem should also be capable of reacting in a timely
manner to its social stimulus and cues, whether
external (from another) or internal (from desires,
motivations, after a pause, etc.).
Avoid the Uncanny Valley”. Mori’s “Uncanny
Valley” [30] is becoming prevalent in building arti-
ficial systems aiming at conveying social cues and
emotional interaction. The issue breaks down to an
iconic vs. synthetic human problem. This relates
the previous point. Up to a certain level, the more
anthropomorphic features employed, the more
the human participant has a sense of familiarity.
Thus the robot’s form facilitates social interaction.
However, beyond this, combinations of particular
anthropomorphic features can result in the reverse
effect being induced. Mori maintains that the robot
form should be visibly artificial, but interesting and
appealing in appearance and effectively aim for
the highpoint of the first peak in Fig. 2. A great
many science fiction and fantasy manga and anime
stories use this strategy.
Use natural motion. Fluidity of motion has long
been associated with the development of artificial
personalities (i.e. Disney). Techniques such as Per-
lin Noise [38] can be implemented to combat the
cliché.
Balance function and form. There should be a strong
correlation between the robot’s capabilities and its
form and vice versa. This helps combat ambiguity
and misinterpretations about its abilities and role.
Man vs. machine. Building a robot based on a hu-
man constrains its capabilities. The human form
and function is not the ultimate design reference for
a machine, because it is a machine and not human.
This does not challenge our humanity, rather frees
the robot to be useful to us. Trying to blur the bound-
ary between a robot and human is unnecessary for
a successful social robot. What is needed is a bal-
ance of anthropomorphic features to hint at certain
capabilities that meet our expectations of a socially
intelligent entity (and possibly even surprise and
surpass these expectations). This is related to the
“Uncanny Valley” as to what is enough, what is too
much? What different sets of features will catalyse
constructively our anthropomorphising tendencies?
An important distinction should be drawn between
anthropomorphic features and anthropomorphic
tendencies. Features relate to the robot’s form and
function and tendencies relates to how these are
perceived. Incorporating anthropomorphic features
(human-like features) does not automatically facili-
tate familiarity or peoples tendencies to feel at ease
with the robot’s form and function. One needs to
further explore the characteristics influencing this.
186 B.R. Duffy/Robotics and Autonomous Systems 42 (2003) 177–190
Facilitate the development of a robot’s own iden-
tity. Seamless integration into the social space and
(nearly conversely) its differentiation through the
robot’s unique identity (which can be bootstrapped
through stereotypical associations—see [4]) within
that space to allow others build social models of
the robot. Allowing the robot to portray a sense of
identity makes it easier for people to treat it as a
socially capable participant. In that sense, it is dif-
ferentiated from the pool of social space. Because
it is more a “participant”, it is more seamlessly
integrated into the social scene rather than simply
existing physically somewhere in the social space.
Emotions. Artificial emotional mechanisms [39–41]
can guide the social interaction in (1) maintaining
a history of past experiences (categorising experi-
ences, i.e. memory organisation), (2) underlying the
mechanism for instinctual reactions, (3) influencing
decision making, especially when no known unique
solution exists, (4) altering tones of communication
as appropriate (as seen in characters in [42]), and (5)
intensifying and solidifying its relationships with
human participants. In order to convey some degree
of emotional communication, familiar expressive
features based on metaphors conventionally used
in rationalising emotional expression can be em-
ployed. The judicious selection of artificial emotion
generation techniques should facilitate the social in-
teraction and not complicate the interaction. Here
the use of a Facial Action Coding System (FACS)
[43] based approach could provide a standardised
protocol for emotional communication (see Kismet)
for establishing stronger social relationships.
Autonomy. The autonomy of the social robot is
dependent on its social roles, capabilities and the
requirements expected of it from both itself and
others in its social environment. Autonomy also
implies that the robot has to develop the capacity
to interact independently and that its own capa-
bilities and the social context in which it is situ-
ated allows it to do so. The issue of autonomy in
robotics currently refers to battery life, the ability
to self-navigate and other low-level interpretations.
In returning to Fig. 1, the most optimal system would
be that which achieves a balance between human-like
(familiarisation), iconic (heuristics), and functional
(mechanistic solutions) features. This approximates
roughly to the middle area of the anthropomorphism
triangle.
Collectively, these mechanisms are based on a re-
quirement to develop a degree of artificial sociabil-
ity in robots and consequently artificial “life” and
“intelligence”. But if the robot becomes “alive”, has
science succeeded?
The following section briefly discusses how this no-
tion of perceived robot “life” through artificial socia-
bility will open a can of worms.
6. Fear of robots
“RADIUS: I do not want any master. I know ev-
erything for myself”. Karel Capek’s original robots
from his 1920 play “Rossum’s Universal Robots”
were designed as artificial slaves which were intended
to relieve humans of the drudgery of work. Unfor-
tunately the story develops into the robots becoming
more intelligent, becoming soldiers and ultimately
wiping out the human race. Oops.
Asimov’s laws from 1950 are inherently based on
a robot’s interaction with people. Interesting stories
in his books “I, Robot” and “The Rest of the Robots”
present scenarios where the often-bizarre behaviours
of the robot characters are explained according to
their adherence to these laws. An example is the
telepathic robot that lies in order not to emotionally
hurt people but inevitably fails to see the long-term
damage of this strategy.
When the robot itself is perceived as making its
own decisions, people’s perspective of computers as
simply tools will change. Consequently, issues of
non-fear inducing function and form are paramount
to the success of people’s willingness to enter into a
social interaction with a robot. The designer now has
to strive towards facilitating this relationship, which
may necessitate defining the scenario of the interac-
tion. The physical construction of the robot plays an
important role in such social contexts. The simple
notion of a robot having two eyes in what could be
characterised as a head, would intuitively facilitate
where a person focuses when speaking to the robot.
As highlighted in the PINO research, “the aesthetic
element [plays] a pivotal role in establishing harmo-
nious co-existence between the consumer and the
product” [44]. Such physical attributes as size, weight,
B.R. Duffy/Robotics and Autonomous Systems 42 (2003) 177–190 187
proportions and motion capabilities are basic observ-
able modalities that define this relationship (PINO is
75cm tall). Children’s toy design has for generations
employed such non-fear inducing strategies for con-
struction. An interesting example of fusing robotics
and children’s toys can be found in iRobot’s “My Real
Baby”, where some reviews indicate that the fusion of
children’s expectations from a toy doll and the robotic
aspect clash significantly. Roboticists have conse-
quently to be careful to match behavioural expecta-
tions and the robot’s form in social interaction with
people.
Current research seeks to achieve a coherent syn-
thesis between such often independent technologies
as speech, vision, multi-agent systems, artificial emo-
tions, learning mechanisms, localisation, building
representations, and others. While the robot “Shakey”
was the first well-known system to seek a cohesive
system integration for the physical world, it high-
lighted some very important fundamental problems
with Classical AI research, i.e. the physical embodi-
ment issue [8]. Integrating robots into our social world
(social embodiment [4]) will undoubtedly rear up
some new dragons in AI and robotics research. While
anthropomorphism in robotics raises issues where the
taxonomic legitimacy of the classification ‘human’
is under threat, a number of viewpoints adopted by
researchers highlight different possible futures for
robotics: (a) machines will never approach human
abilities; (b) robots will inevitably take over the world;
(c) people will become robots in the form of cyborgs.
A fourth possibility exists. Robots will become a
“race” unto themselves. In fact, they already have.
Robots currently construct cars, clean swimming
pools, mow the lawn, play football, act as pets, and
the list is growing very quickly. Technology is now
providing robust solutions to the mechanistic prob-
lems that have constrained robot development until
recently, thereby allowing robots permeate all areas
of society from work to leisure. Robots are not to be
feared, but rather employed.
7. Future directions
Robots will expand from pure function as found
in production assembly operations to more social
environments such as responding and adapting to a
person’s mood. If a robot could perform a “techno
handshake” and monitor their stress level through
galvanic skin response and heart rate monitoring and
use an infrared camera system measuring blood flow
on the person’s face, a traditional greeting takes on a
new meaning. The ability of a robot to garner bio in-
formation and use sensor fusion in order to augment
its diagnosis of the human’s emotional state through
for example, the “techno handshake” illustrates how
a machine can have an alternate technique to obtain
social information about people in its social space.
This strategy effectively increases people’s perception
of the social robot’s “emotional intelligence”, thus
facilitating its social integration.
The ability of a machine to know information
about us using measurement techniques unavailable
to us is an example where the social robot and robots
in general can have their own function and form
without challenging ours. What would be the role of
the social robot? If therapeutic for say psychological
analysis and treatment, would such a robot require
full “humanness” to allow this intensity of social
interaction develop?
The only apparent validation for building strong
humanoid robots is in looking to directly replace
a human interacting with another person. It is in
seeking to embrace fundamental needs and expec-
tations for internally motivated behaviour (for one’s
own means) that could encourage strong humanoid
robotics. Examples include situations requiring strong
introspection through psychotherapy or the satisfac-
tion/gratification of personal needs or desires such as
found in the adult industry.
Does work on the development of socially capable
robots hark a fundamental change in AI and robotics
research where work is not based on a desire to un-
derstand how human cognition works but rather on
simply designing how a system may appear intelli-
gent? The answer is obviously no. In order to design
a system that we could classify as “intelligent” we
need to know what intelligence is, and even better if
we can understand what it is.
8. Conclusion
It is argued that robots will be more acceptable to
humans if they are built in their own image. Arguments
188 B.R. Duffy/Robotics and Autonomous Systems 42 (2003) 177–190
against this viewpoint can be combated with issues of
resolution where its expressive and behavioural gran-
ularity may not be fine enough. But if the robot was
perceived as being human, then effectively it should
be human and not a robot. From a technological stand-
point, can building a mechanistic digital synthetic ver-
sion of man be anything less than a cheat when man
is not mechanistic, digital nor synthetic? Similar to
the argument to not constrain virtual reality worlds to
our physical world, are we trying to constrain a robot
to become too animalistic (including humanistic) that
we miss how a robot can constructively contribute to
our way of life?
The perspectives discussed here have tended to-
wards the pragmatic by viewing the robot as a ma-
chine employing such human-like qualities as per-
sonality, gestures, expressions and even emotions to
facilitate its role in human society. The recent film
AI (Warner Brothers, 2001) highlights the extended
role that robot research is romantically perceived
as aiming to achieve. Even the robot PINO [44] is
portrayed as addressing “its genesis in purely hu-
man terms” and analogies with Pinocchio are drawn,
most notably in the name. But, does the robot itself
have a wish to become a human boy? Or do we
have this wish for the robot? We should be asking
why.
Experiments comparing a poor implementation of a
human-like software character to a better implemen-
tation of a dog-like character [37] promotes the idea
that a restrained degree of anthropomorphic form and
function is the optimal solution for an entity that is
not a human.
It can be argued that the ability of a robot to suc-
cessfully fool a person into thinking it is intelligent
effectively through social interaction will remain an
elusive goal for many years to come. But similarly
machine intelligence could already exist, in “infant”
form. Robots are learning to walk and talk. The issue
is rather should they walk? Walking is a very ineffi-
cient motion strategy for environments that are more
and more wheel friendly. Should robots become the
synthetic human? Is attacking the most sophisticated
entity we know, ourselves, and trying to build an arti-
ficial human the ultimate challenge to roboticists? But
researchers will not be happy building anything less
than a fully functional synthetic human robot. It is just
not in their nature.
There is the age-old paradox where technologists
predict bleak futures for mankind because of their re-
search directions but nevertheless hurtle full steam
ahead in pursuing them. Strong humanoid research
could be just a means to play God and create life. But
fortunately, robots will not take over the world. They
will be so unique that both our identity and theirs will
be safe. As an analogy, nuclear energy has provided
both good and bad results. We similarly need to not
let one perspective cloud the other in social robotics
and robotics as a whole.
While anthropomorphism is clearly a very com-
plex notion, it intuitively provides us with very
powerful physical and social features that will no
doubt be implemented to a greater extent in so-
cial robotics research in the near future. The social
robot is the next important stage in robot research
and will fuel controversy over existing approaches
to realising artificial intelligence and artificial
consciousness.
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190 B.R. Duffy/Robotics and Autonomous Systems 42 (2003) 177–190
Brian Duffy is a Research Associate
at the Media Lab Europe, the European
research partner of the MIT Media Lab.
He received his B.S. in Engineering from
Trinity College, and his Masters of Engi-
neering Science and Ph.D. in Computer
Science from the University College
Dublin. From 1992 to 1994, he worked
at the National Institute for Applied Sci-
ence in Lyon. From 1994 to 1996, he
conducted research in artificial intelligence and built robot pro-
totypes at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s Institute for Autonomous
Intelligent Systems. His current research aims to develop an ami-
cable anthropomorphic socially capable office robot.
... The traditional accounts of social interaction imply or explicitly demand that all interactants have some number of certain kinds of (human) social capacities, including consciousness, intentionality, self-awareness, empathy, emotions, beliefs, reasoning, capacity for joint-action, etc. (Duffy, 2003;Cerulo, 2009;Hakli, 2014;Parviainen et al., 2019;Damholdt et al., 2020;Seibt et al., 2020a). With regard to human-robot interaction (often social robotics), the literature on anthropomorphism has always been contentious (Duffy, 2003;Waytz et al., 2010;Darling, 2017;Epley, 2018;Zebrowski, 2020). ...
... The traditional accounts of social interaction imply or explicitly demand that all interactants have some number of certain kinds of (human) social capacities, including consciousness, intentionality, self-awareness, empathy, emotions, beliefs, reasoning, capacity for joint-action, etc. (Duffy, 2003;Cerulo, 2009;Hakli, 2014;Parviainen et al., 2019;Damholdt et al., 2020;Seibt et al., 2020a). With regard to human-robot interaction (often social robotics), the literature on anthropomorphism has always been contentious (Duffy, 2003;Waytz et al., 2010;Darling, 2017;Epley, 2018;Zebrowski, 2020). Many researchers point out that our projection of human capacities onto non-human systems results in a metaphorical use of anthropomorphism already. ...
... Robots are said to "sense, " think, " and "act" (Parviainen et al., 2019, 323). Duffy (2003) points out that anthropomorphism "includes metaphorically ascribing human-like qualities to a system based on one's interpretation of its actions. . . [it] is a metaphor rather than an explanation of a system's behavior" (181). ...
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AI (broadly speaking) as a discipline and practice has tended to misconstrue social cognition by failing to properly appreciate the role and structure of the interaction itself. Participatory Sense-Making (PSM) offers a new level of description in understanding the potential role of (particularly robotics-based) AGI in a social interaction process. Where it falls short in distinguishing genuine living sense-makers from potentially cognitive artificial systems, sociomorphing allows for gradations in how these potential systems are defined and incorporated into asymmetrical sociality. By side-stepping problems of anthropomorphism and muddy language around it, sociomorphing offers a framework and ontology that can help researchers make finer distinctions while studying social cognition through enactive sociality, PSM. We show here how PSM and sociomorphing, taken together and reconceived for more than just social robotics, can offer a robust framework for AGI robotics-based approaches.
... Anthropomorphism is defined as "the tendency to attribute human characteristics to inanimate objects, animals and others with a view to helping us rationalise their actions" [50]. Anthropomorphic affordances project human functioning and behaviour to the attributes of an object [214]. ...
Thesis
As one of the most important non-verbal communication channels, touch is widely used for different purposes. It is a powerful force in human physical and psychological development, shaping social structures as well as communicating emotions. However, even though current information and communication technology (ICT) systems enable the use of various non-verbal languages, the support of communicating through the sense of touch is still insufficient. Inspired by the cross-modal interaction of human perception, the approach I present in this dissertation is to use multimodality to improve mediated touch interaction. Following this approach, I present three devices that provide empirical contributions to multimodal touch interaction: VisualTouch, SansTouch, and In-Flat. To understand if multimodal stimuli can improve the emotional perception of touch, I present the VisualTouch device, and quantitatively evaluate the cross-modal interaction between the visual and tactile modality. To investigate the use of different modalities in real touch communication, I present the SansTouch device, which provides empirical insights on multimodal interaction and skin-like touch generation in the context of face-to-face communication. Going one step forward in the use of multimodal stimuli in touch interaction, I present the In-Flat device, an input/output touch overlay for smartphones. In-Flat not only provides further insights on the skin-like touch generation, but also a better understanding of the role that mediated touch plays in more general contexts. In summary, this dissertation strives to bridge the gap between touch communication and HCI, by contributing to the design and understanding of multimodal stimuli in mediated touch interaction.
... In the field of social robotics, studies focusing on the possibility of implementing emotions in robots have recently increased a great deal. Since the 1990s, the social impact of robots has gained importance, engaging very notable researchers, such as Breazeal [14][15][16], Duffy [44], Dautenhahn [35,37], and Asada [50]. Several social robots have been developed, such as Paro [66], Kismet [15], ICub [19,67], Kaspar [36], and Nao [2], with the aim of performing social skills and interacting in a social environment. ...
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... The debate for and against anthropomorphic appearances has been ongoing in the field of human-robot interaction. One position is that anthropomorphic appearance facilitates the establishment of meaningful connections between humans and robots [18]. The opposite position is that non-anthropomorphic appearance avoids human-robot encounters that are biased by preconceptions and anthropomorphic projections [15]. ...
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