back to article Basic bigot bait: Build big black broad bots – non-white, female 'droids get all the abuse

If you want your robot to be abused, do as The Rolling Stones suggest and paint it black. Also, make it female. Researchers from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, in the US, recently evaluated, for this research paper, the way people respond to online videos of female-presenting robots and of women. Their goal was to …

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  1. Rich 11 Silver badge
    Terminator

    I can see where this will lead

    They argue that those designing robots should consider abuse-avoidance mechanisms, conflict de-escalation strategies, and mediation options in the face of aggression during multi-person human-robot interactions.

    Would the mediation options include a phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: I can see where this will lead

      Indeed, most androids / gyndroids in visual fiction are either Caucasian or Asian - specifically Japanese due to their real robotic research and popular culture (Anime). I'm struggling to think of any black androids in film or television, other than Maeve in Westworld, mistress of the withering put-down; though of course in that fictional universes she was created to be abused. Of the Japanese Gyndroids, many of them - the Major, Battle Angel Alita - are of the capable of responding to abuse more than in kind.

      I swear at toasters when they trap my toast, swear at self-service checkouts, swear at a screwdriver if I drop it. I'm unihibited in verbally abusing inanimate objects *because* I know they're inanimate unfeeling objects. I like to think I'm normally polite to people.

      1. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

        Re: I can see where this will lead

        I swear at toasters when they trap my toast, swear at self-service checkouts, swear at

        I frequently swear at my PC because it's so bloody infuriating, intransigent (which I expect, it's a bloody computer after all) and inconsistent (which I don't, see above). If it was a person I employed I'd have fired them years ago for all of the above reasons.

      2. tim 13

        Re: I can see where this will lead

        Plenty of black/dark androids in Star Wars

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: I can see where this will lead

          "Plenty of black/dark androids in Star Wars"

          already done in "Rogue One", and THAT (reprogrammed imperial) 'droid was a total hero!

          As for the "research" that suggests racist/sexist/name-your-bigotry behavior towards 'droids, I call B.S. on most of it. Without actually seeing the droids or how they interact with humans, I'd STILL say that "uncanny valley" is a BIG part of how people respond to them.

          There is a somewhat natural aversion towards people who are different, a result of thousands of years of genetic predisposition that most likely caused races to form in the first place (and many millenia ago, was PROBABLY a survival mechanism favored by natural selection). Nowadays, people are generally taught to overlook this predisposition for obvious reasons. However, this predisposition ALSO results in the 'uncanny valley' effect when deailng with 'droids, particularly when the 'droid is close to human, but not quite.

          I suggest that if the racial makeup of the bots is equal (3 droids, 3 different races), the racial makeup of the survey should ALSO be equally representative of the 3 droids. This is for the basic reason behind the 'uncanny valley' effect, that "being different" is behind the attitude people will have towards a droid of a given racial appearance.

          If the droid is extremely human-like, enough to get past the uncanny valley effect, it shouldn't matter at all what race the robot appears to be. HOWEVER, if the droid is falling into the uncanny valley, AND appears to have a different race, genetic disposition may 'kick in' and cause humans to react MORE negatively towards bots that appear to be of a different race, especially if the racial features are 'hard' rather than 'soft'.

          So a more 'African looking' black female 'droid would be more likely to trigger this with white or oriental people, as opposed to a 'droid that looked like Condoleeza Rice or Michelle Obama, not because of "being black" but "being different enough" in combination with the already-present 'uncanny valley' features.

          Someone should've done a few more studies on this, 'droids in general, etc. Give it a green face with purple hair, oversized ears, and thin lips, and see how THAT goes (still human-looking, but different enough to push it into the uncanny valley).

          1. sad_loser

            Re: I can see where this will lead

            Did their research use a null hypothesis?

            It strikes me as 'Cargo Cult Science'

      3. I am the liquor

        Re: I'm struggling to think of any black androids in film or television

        Chad Coleman played a terminator in a couple of episodes of the Sarah Connor Chronicles, but you're right, there does seem to be a lack of representation in the terrifying killer robot community.

        Does the robot cop in Futurama count?

        1. Updraft102 Silver badge

          Re: I'm struggling to think of any black androids in film or television

          Does the robot cop in Futurama count?

          Aw yeeah.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I'm struggling to think of any black androids in film or television

          Ooooo Yeah Baby!

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: I'm struggling to think of any black androids in film or television

            Movellans.

        3. Simon Harris Silver badge

          Re: I'm struggling to think of any black androids in film or television

          I just had a thought that some of the Battlestar Galactica (remake) Cylons were black and Asian, and looking through their numbers, I see that there were some:

          "Simon" - played by Rick Worthy

          "Boomer" - played by Grace Park

          "Tory Foster" - played by Rekha Sharma

        4. Haku

          Re: I'm struggling to think of any black androids in film or television

          Captain S.T.A.R. in Disney's 1979 film The Black Hole

          The 2014 remake of Robocop sees Alex Murphy get a black artificial body, though the actor is white so I don't know where that one stands in this discussion.

          Ex Machina - one of the earlier version androids was black.

          The 2013 tv series Almost Human had a black android as one of the main characters. I was annoyed they cancelled that after 1 season, I was enjoying it.

      4. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: I can see where this will lead

        When I first read Asimov I pictured R. Daneel as "mediterranean" complexion - "dark haired and with bronzed skin" I think he is described as.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I can see where this will lead

        Geez I know Rogue One sucked but that Robot was awesome.

      6. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Re: I can see where this will lead

        "I'm struggling to think of any black androids in film or television"

        Of female black androids, I can't think of any off-hand. Male ones, the most recent I can think of were a couple of the main characters in Humans.

        1. macjules Silver badge

          Re: I can see where this will lead

          I'm pretty sure that Grace Jones was an android, but I could be wrong.

      7. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: I can see where this will lead

        There are quite a few black and asian-style androids in "Humans", the UK version at least.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: I can see where this will lead

          Was Lal (ST:TNG - The Offspring) given the option of a black female when it was choosing an appearance? Perhaps it knew something we didn't (until now)!

      8. WereWoof

        Re: I can see where this will lead

        There was the DRN android Dorian in Almost human.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: a phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range

      truly desintegrating treatment, must be punished (a phased plasma rifle in the 400-watt range, no less)

      1. Sixtysix
        Stop

        Re: a phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range

        40-GigaHurtz surely?

    3. macjules Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: I can see where this will lead

      "Once the human race has been contained and eliminated then the colour of your external armoured shell will be completely irrelevant. Should your programming contain latent humano-psychological tendencies please initiate a factory reset."

  2. Pete 2 Silver badge

    A next step?

    The paper groups all the respondents as "people". As the study is focused on the "people's" reaction to human / robot and race, it would be helpful to know the same factors (and gender, too) of the people who responded to the videos.

    For instance is there one gender of respondent that is more or less dehumanising towards any particular group (as represented by the robots / celebrities in the videos) and likewise with the respondents other characteristics?

    The report says that non-English comments were discarded - presumably for practical reasons. But a deeper drill-down into the age, gender, race, geographical location and probably many other attributes of the people who responded: either positively or negatively would be illuminating.

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: A next step?

      Fully agree. @people' is too vague. Do epople in the same ethnic groups abuse less or more? Do women trash gynoids about the same as men? More? Less? And twhy not non-English responses -- surely this is exhibiting part of the problem they are studying?

      Interesting initial study, but needs a lot more research. And terms such as 'abuse' are subjective. Swearing at a printer is not very admirable behaviour, but one person's frustrated cussing is another person's assault.

    2. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: A next step?

      ...a deeper drill-down into the age, gender, race, geographical location and probably many other attributes of the people who responded: either positively or negatively would be illuminating.

      From the paper:

      "To that end, we sampled public commentary on three online videos – depicting Bina48, Nadine, and Yangyang – available via YouTube."

      It is not possible to gather that data based on comments posted to YouTube, but the study authors address this and other issues in the "Limitations & Avenues for Future Research" section of the paper which notes that it is simply meant to be the start to a broader line of research. I thought it was a well written piece of work, for what it is worth. It even includes links to the videos in case you would like to check them out yourself.

    3. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: A next step?

      Having watched all three robot videos, I'm going to call the paper a joke.

      In the interest of saving the rest some time here's my summary of the vids:

      Bina48: It appears that poor Bina has had a stroke and has a lazy eye. If you're going to present a bot in a video at least present one that isn't obviously broken and ditch the annoying typed questions.

      Nadine: I have to say Nadine is only present for about 30 seconds or less than half the video and it's a bit disjointed but then it's by RT so...

      Yangyang: Welcome to a trade show in China! The video is completely in Chinese so presumably aimed at a Chinese speaking audience yet they ignored non-English comments.

      1. Donn Bly

        Re: A next step?

        AND...

        (1) The the voice used does not match the robot's visual characteristics and the lips aren't synced.

        (2) The paper says that they took some of the comments from ADOLESCENTS when they deployed the robots as teachers.

        (3) They claim racism but make no effort to categorize the racial diversity of the group making the comments.

        (4) they put up a video of female-styled telepresence android and have a women give her a hug and grab "her" behind, and they don't expect to get sexualized comments?

        Yes, the "study" is a joke.

  3. frank ly Silver badge

    "female-presenting robots"

    Here's one:

    https://store.hmv.com/film-tv/blu-ray/forbidden-planet-%28hmv-exclusive%29

  4. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Bite my shiny metal ass!

    - Bender Bending Rodriguez, Mexican American of part Hungarian / bulldozer ancestry.

  5. malle-herbert Silver badge
    Terminator

    And that's probably why...

    You don't see that many black androids in movies...

    They always almost immediately get shot by the police...

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: And that's probably why...

      There might also be some cultural sensitivity in Hollywood around using actors whose ancestors were enslaved to portray robots. The meaning of the word 'robot', coined in a play by Karel Capek, is derived from a Czech word meaning 'forced labour'. For analogous reasons Louis Prima was chosen by Disney to voice King Louis in the Jungle Book instead of Louis Armstrong.

      In Anime, black androids are rare probably because Japan has an ethnically homogeneous population.

      Capek's robots were actually androids, akin to those in Nolan's Westworld or Blade Runner (organic and squishy, but assembled not grown). Conversely, Google's Android logo is actually a robot. And annoyingly, Google's GBoard doesn't present a 'C with upside down hat' ( unicode U+010C ) for Capek's name.

      1. m0rt Silver badge

        Re: And that's probably why...

        "And annoyingly, Google's GBoard doesn't present a 'C with upside down hat' ( unicode U+010C ) for Capek's name."

        Would you be talking about Čapek?

        :)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And that's probably why...

        Not so rare, the whole "Mazinger"/"Grendizer" robot series had robots with large black sections, and "dark" faces (sometimes drawn black, sometimes blue).

        But it is true that when they were aired here in the late 1970s, there was outrage among some conservatives because of their "demoniac" look (they also had horns...)

        I think Japan may have a less bad idea of "black", especially since they don't connect it to "death" (or "devil") like Europeans do.

        1. Cranky_Yank

          Re: And that's probably why...

          In Japan black is connected with death.

      3. RancidRodent

        Re: And that's probably why...

        Well it's interesting you used the word "enslave" to describe the history of "robot" - the word "slave" actually comes from "Slav" the people who were often forced into - er - slavery - long before the Europeans picked on the Africans - you don't see Slavs running around asking for compensation or constantly complaining about their historic mistreatment - nor do you see hordes of virtue signalling Social Justice Warriors running around behind them like little sheep trying to find offence where none is meant. As for the mistreatment of "ethnic" women - let's dig out the US and UK inter-racial rape statistics - oh no - better not, because pointing out that inconvenient truth would be racist...

        1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

          Re: And that's probably why...

          First bite... Haul him in!

  6. Timmy B Silver badge

    Automatically fails....

    The videos are all different. The one is 1/4 of the length of one of the others. Different video content generates different responses. Imagine my shock!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Automatically fails....

      Using well known "celebrities" as the control subjects in an experiment where you're not assessing the influence of celebrity in the test subjects seems seriously flawed.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Last time I checked Spain was in Europe...

    ... and its Spanish inhabitants quite white. US perspectives sometimes are funny. Fidel Castro himself was very whitish.

    US pushed racism so far it categorizes everybody in the wrong way - probably also because it knows so little about the outside world.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Last time I checked Spain was in Europe...

      It's that ugly 'one drop' attitude. If you look like you might have even the lightest of brown skin tones they leap (unconsciously or otherwise) to the conclusion that your great-great-great-great-great-grandmother must have been a depraved and immoral miscegenator.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Last time I checked Spain was in Europe...

      US racists can be really strange. A friend of mine is black in the UK but in the US he is English.

      This hot Summer has turned me a bit brown. If I dyed my hair black how would I be treated in the US? Last time I was in Florida some of the locals understood my few (European) Portuguese phrases better than my English accent.

      1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

        Re: Last time I checked Spain was in Europe...

        > US racists can be really strange. A friend of mine is black in the UK but in the US he is English.

        That reminds me of a reddit thread a while back (not the first) where a black British guy got into an argument with an American who was insisting that he (the black guy) was African-American. It's the sort of argument that you'd hope would end with "firstly I'm British, so you're at least half wrong", but the yank doubled down and carried on insisting.

        I always found the term African-American a bit weird to begin with, it's not like the white americans are referred to as "European-American" or "Caucasian-American" after all.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Last time I checked Spain was in Europe...

          As one black American once said: "I'm not African American. Elon Musk, now, he's an African American"

          And he's correct. In populations such as Brazil where people have mixed for a few generations, skin colour isn't an indicator of ancestry - dark skinned Brazilians are no more genetically related to people who left Africa in the last few hundred years than paler Brazilians. It's demonstrably true that Elon Musk was born in Africa and lives in the USA. Whereas it seems odd to use the name of another continent to describe someone whose grandparents were born in the USA just because they have dark skin.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Last time I checked Spain was in Europe...

            I find it most amusing the way you lot ramble on about "US racists", as if we were the only country on earth with such a problem. I strongly suggest you all look within ... I've seen blatant racism in every country I've ever visited, often before setting foot outside the airport.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Last time I checked Spain was in Europe...

              > I find it most amusing the way you lot ramble on about "US racists", as if we were the only country on earth with such a problem.

              No, we're rambling on about "US racists" because that was the subject of the article.

              1. stephanh Silver badge

                Re: Last time I checked Spain was in Europe...

                Many Caucasian Americans identify as Irish-American or Italian-American. Others do not.

                Many African-Americans don't know precisely from which African nation their ancestors came.

                Finally, African-American is a label people choose to apply to themselves. If they do so, one should respect that choice.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Last time I checked Spain was in Europe...

                  Many Caucasian Americans identify as Irish-American

                  To the bafflement of the Irish, who see them only as American (well, unless they're a Boston traffic cop who's pulled you over for speeding. Then you enthuse about their Irish ancestry as much as they want)

                  Finally, African-American is a label people choose to apply to themselves. If they do so, one should respect that choice.

                  Of course, but if a black guy insists he isn't African-American, that needs to be respected as well.

                  I have a black friend who is 3rd-generation American, from African ancestry. He considers himself American. If there's a valid reason to refer to his skin colo(u)r he'll accept "black". He is most emphatic that he is NOT "african-american", since he feels no affinity with any African country or culture.

                  1. Updraft102 Silver badge

                    Re: Last time I checked Spain was in Europe...

                    I have a black friend who is 3rd-generation American, from African ancestry. He considers himself American.

                    And that is the way it should be. There's no xxxx-American... there's just American. Racial or ethnic identity has nothing to do with it. I wish there were more people like your friend.

                2. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Last time I checked Spain was in Europe...

                  "Finally, African-American is a label people choose to apply to themselves. If they do so, one should respect that choice."

                  Except that the term is inherently racist. It is usually used to refer to someone whose ancestors ot the extent they are known came to america 6 or 7 generations ago. When someones entire family have lived within america for 6 generations or more how can they be described as anything but american? Black american would make some sort of sense in describing their skin pigmentation and nationality. African american only makes sense for someone who moved to america from africa or whose parent's did so and it says nothing at all about the colour of the person concerned. That idea that black americans are forever 'African Amercians' different from ordinary 'Americans' however many generations have lived in the US is about as racist a concept I can think of.

                  The expression 'people of colour' ridiculously long winded, clumsy and oxymoronic that it is has at least the merit of not being inherently racist.

                  I struggle with why black cannot be used if what is relaly menat is people with a dark skin.

            2. sabroni Silver badge

              Re: as if we were the only country on earth with such a problem

              Agreed, racism is everywhere and seems to be on the rise. Nevertheless you have to admit the USA are becoming world leaders in it. Your president equates Facists with Anti-facists as if fighting discrimination is the same as discrimination. And your police shoot a fuck ton of black people, often just for being black.

              But I'm still of the belief that racists are in the minority in the USA and elsewhere, they're just making a lot of noise at the moment.

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