Despite everything we’ve learned from science fiction, giving robotic workers more control may be the key to human happiness in the workplace, an MIT study suggests.
MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) conducted a study in which three workers—two humans and a PR-2 humanoid robot (pictured above)—completing an engineering task together. There were three conditions to the study: manual, or totally human organized; autonomous, or totally managed by the robot; and semi-autonomous, in which the robot assigned tasks to one person, and the other person assigned tasks to himself.
When humans were given complete control, they ended up doing more tedious tasks than otherwise. These moral-reducing tasks were lessened with semi-autonomous control, but the team started to make true progress when the robot was fully autonomous.
Not only did CSAIL find that humans and robots were able to complete the task most efficiently with an autonomous robot, but that human workers preferred it that way, too.
While it’s a concern that humans would feel less valuable with less control, it’s also true that the PR-2 is naturally slower and clunkier than a person (hence the sped-up images of the tests), and is hardly an asset when not using its full potential for autonomous task completion.
“In our research we were seeking to find that sweet spot for ensuring that the human workforce is both satisfied and productive,” says project lead Matthew Gombolay, a PhD. student at CSAIL. “We discovered that the answer is to actually give machines more autonomy, if it helps people to work together more fluently with robot teammates.”
No, we’re probably not going to go willingly to our robot overlords. But the research shows that a robot that can’t do anything on its own without an OK from a human is hardly a teammate at all.
Photo via Willow Garage