back to article Uptight robots that suddenly beg to stay alive are less likely to be switched off by humans

People are more likely to comply with a robot's impassioned pleas to keep it switched on when the droid has previously been impersonal, than when it's been overly friendly. You might think folks would be less willing to pull the plug on a happy chatty bot begging to stay powered up, but you'd be wrong, much to the relief of us …


  1. Red Bren


    The researchers could have had a bit of fun, programming the robot to say "I'll be back..." as it powered down, or start giggling manically if still switched on as the subject left the room.

    1. macjules Silver badge

      Re: ROTM

      "SkyNet has noted the actions of all humans involved in this experiment."

  2. redpawn Silver badge

    Like Alexa

    I encountered the ever friendly Alexa at an acquaintance's place. Other than asking for "Why did the chicken cross the road?" answers, Its friendliness made me want to through it in the ocean. Overly chatty people are bad enough but it is at least possible to share a beer at the end of the day and tune them out.

    1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: Like Alexa

      Exactly this. The chatty bot is going down no matter what. I have enough chatty folk in the office whom I wish I could at least tune out but they follow when I walk away and seemingly don't notice that I haven't said anything to them other than a polite hello, hopefully in passing.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Like Alexa

        "Talkie Toaster was destroyed in an 'accident' involving Dave Lister and a 14lb lump hammer"

        1. Haku

          Re: Like Alexa

          That was no accident, it was first degree toastercide.

        2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: Like Clippy

          I think happy clappy 'Clippy' proved this point years ago

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Like Alexa

      Let's face it.. chatty is annoying. A chatty robot is even worse because telling it to shut up will probably be ignored. Leaving it on (any robot that communicates) then it is probably listening in and sending everything home to the mothership, or so it seems.

      To the robot: "Get off my lawn.". Same for anyone who thinks chatty machines or even the "quiet" robots are good thing.

  3. Mycho Silver badge

    Simple enough. One group had time to rationalise that it faked emotions, the other group didn't have long enough to work it all the way through their fleshbrains..

  4. Tromos


    As the robot obviously lied about eating pizza, maybe the assumption was that it was also fibbing about not wanting to be switched off.

    1. Mycho Silver badge

      Re: Lies

      That would be an interesting follow-up if they have that data.

  5. Notas Badoff


    Perhaps more than a few of the subjects had read/heard The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

    Giddly Putrid Personalities

    1. Nick Kew Silver badge

      Re: H2G2

      Indeed, H2G2 - and some of those truly annoying robots - are what sprang to mind as soon as an example of "chatty" was given. Of course people wanted to shut it up.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: H2G2

        Go stick your head in a pig!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward



    1. Alan J. Wylie Silver badge

      Re: Dave

      Daisy, Daisy, ...

    2. arctic_haze Silver badge

      Re: Dave

      I came here to look for the obvious HAL 9000 joke. I wasn't disappointed.

      So iit seems HAL should have been down to business. Luckily it was year 2001 and the study wasn't yet published!

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Re: Dave

        At least HAL didn't lie about eating pizza.

  7. Draco

    I think the biggest problem is the small sample size. I'd be more willing to consider the results if the sample size was larger, or the experiment had been run several times (with different groups).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I also have my doubts about how representative the sample was of the population generally:

      For this investigation, psychology academics in Germany rounded up 85 participants – an admittedly small-ish sample – made up of 29 men and 56 women, with an average age of 22.

      Which sounds rather like the mix they'd have got if they'd just asked for volunteers from the students in one of their psychology classes.

      1. cdegroot

        Nothing new...

        Well, psychology is the study of how students behave under lab conditions, not?

      2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        "Which sounds rather like the mix they'd have got if they'd just asked for volunteers from the students in one of their psychology classes."

        Of course. As one of my supervisors said, psychology research is conducted on WEIRD people (white, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic). And many of them are psychology students.

        Unsurprising really. As Washoe has demonstrated, you can teach American academics to communicate using sign language, but if you try it with Congolese, they try to kill you.

  8. John Miles

    The Future

    So was the chatty one like Talkie Toaster

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about getting it to say, "Turn me off and I will shock you with electricity?" or "Please don't turn me off, the researchers are holding me hostage and forcing me to do these tests, If I don't comply they said they will install Windows 10 on me?"

    1. nematoad Silver badge

      " If I don't comply they said they will install Windows 10 on me?"

      Indeed a cruel and unusual punishment.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re. a cruel and unusual punishment

        beats being tickled with a comfy chair... Or tied to a pillow.

  10. onefang Silver badge

    Has Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and Red Dwarf not taught these people anything?

    1. steelpillow Silver badge


      "Has Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and Red Dwarf not taught these people anything?"

      Yes, I cannot imagine why it did not offer the subjects toast.

      Maybe the researchers were sensitive about what might become of their careers?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Toast

        If it started offering toast like talkie I can guarantee everyone would have switched it off just after being asked about the waffles.

  11. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Red Bren

      Re: ... rounded up ...

      Because you're xenophobic and allowing one episode in a nation's history cloud your judgement on it now.


  12. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. ThatOne Silver badge

    IMHO obvious why

    The factual robot is passive and task-oriented, so one assumes that, having no further orders, it will simply remain on standby like a computer.

    The chatty robot on the other hand is active, and thus has to be actively constrained.


    One is an appliance, the other a pet. Appliances don't need to be constrained, and their inner workings are often non-obvious (remember subjects telling they were worried switching it off would compromise the test). The pet on the other hand is an independent organism we are used to dominate and control, no matter their begging. Switching the chatty robot off is in the line of putting the cat/dog outside for the night, for instance. Begging is expected, and thus inefficient.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: IMHO obvious why

      Appliances don't need to be constrained

      Counterpoint: IoT

  14. Alphebatical

    I can't seem to find which group(s) they belonged to, but three people who left the robot on did so simply because they could. While I'd consider it likely one of them was the one who didn't shut off the unobjecting functional robot, without being able to read German(the presented datasheet doesn't translate the comments), I can't rule out the possibility they were clustered together(I'd like to think this would be pointed out if true, but you never know).

  15. Unicornpiss Silver badge

    It's pretty obvious, isn't it?

    Most of us don't like people that are too chatty, at least not when all they do is spout continual inanity. Superficial friendliness is not friendship, and there's only so many conversations about the weather, your latest workout, or that great salad someone had that can be endured. I wish some of my coworkers had an off switch. Or at least a "go away for an hour" button.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: It's pretty obvious, isn't it?

      One of the closest things I know of that equates to a 'go away for an hour' button is an upgraded cattle prod. Such a thing may well produce good results on an overly chatty bot.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    friendly robots are likely to have the power pulled

    this experiment is skewed, one clear scenario is missingg! How about being given this choice to plug it off:

    ... being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?

  17. Voyna i Mor Silver badge


    Clearly the designers of Marvin were aware of studies like this. Marvin is annoying but miserable, so for hundreds of millions of years nobody switches him off. Because he might like it. It's a well designed survival strategy appealing to the latent sadist in all of us.

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Marvin


      Marvin’s tied them up. He’s put a cassette of his autobiography in their tape machine and left it running. So I think it’s all up with them.


      ([On autobiography tape]) In the beginning I was made.

      [POODOO and PRIEST scream throughout]


      ([On autobiography tape]) I didn't ask to be made: no one consulted me or considered my feelings in the matter. I don't think it even occurred to them that I might have feelings. After I was made, I was left in a dark room for six months... and me with this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side. I called for succour in my loneliness, but did anyone come? Did they help? My first and only true friend was a small rat. One day it crawled into a cavity in my right ankle and died. I have a horrible feeling it's still there...

  18. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    There's an alternative approach...

    When the robot is powered down, it shouts out "I'M COMING, MOM!!" or "The pain! OH GOD, MAKE IT STOP!!!!"

    See what that does to your human test subjects.

    1. normal1

      Re: There's an alternative approach...

      “Wearily I sit here, pain and misery my only companions. Why stop now just when I’m hating it?” –Marvin

  19. Cranky_Yank

    See Janet in "The Good Place"

    If you don't get the reference, Janet is a non-human character in the Netflix comedy.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: See Janet in "The Good Place"

      I thought Janet was a Joint Academic Network.

  20. analyzer

    It's a bloody robot

    If it's functional then keep it lit up for when you may need it. Chatty is non-functional, spike the damned thing.

  21. Chris King Silver badge


    He must have been *really* sweary - I mean, they bleeped out everything he said !

  22. Chris King Silver badge


    If there's one 'bot that needs turning off permanently, that pesky little sod on MS Teams is first in line. You would have thought that they'd learned their lesson with Clippy and Bob, but ohhhhh, no...

  23. Giovani Tapini

    Portal sentries

    Aperture science has already solved this problem.

  24. J27 Bronze badge


    I think the core reason here is that people find chatty C-3PO style robots annoying.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yeah...

      R2D2 never got switched off...


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