Anthropomorphism On The Battlefield
September 23, 2013

Soldiers Are Emotionally Attached To Their Robots

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Anthropomorphism is what allows humans to attach themselves to non-human objects, and new research indicates that it may affect soldiers on the battlefield.

Julie Carpenter of the University of Washington found that soldiers can have an emotional attachment to robots they use on the battlefield. She discovered that as robots continue to evolve, so does the attachment a solder feels towards it.

The researcher interviewed Explosive Ordnance Disposal military personnel for the study. This group is made up of highly trained soldiers who know how to use robots to disarm explosives. Carpenter wanted to know how the troops would feel if they saw their mechanical buddy get blown up.

“They were very clear it was a tool, but at the same time, patterns in their responses indicated they sometimes interacted with the robots in ways similar to a human or pet,” Carpenter said in a press release.

She found that many of the 23 explosive ordnance personnel had named their robots, usually after a celebrity or current wife or girlfriend. Some of the robots were even dressed in paint. Soldiers told Carpenter that their first reaction upon seeing their robot-battlefield-buddy get blown up was anger at losing an expensive piece of equipment. However, some of them described a feeling of loss.

“They would say they were angry when a robot became disabled because it is an important tool, but then they would add ‘poor little guy,’ or they’d say they had a funeral for it,” Carpenter said. “These robots are critical tools they maintain, rely on, and use daily. They are also tools that happen to move around and act as a stand-in for a team member, keeping Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel at a safer distance from harm.”

Although some soldiers might feel an attachment, the non-human companions are used to minimize the risk of human life. They have better endurance, don't have to deal with emotions, and they are impervious to chemical and biological weapons.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing humanoid robots to help troops out even more in the battlefield. The latest addition to DARPA's line-up, ATLAS, is 6-foot-2-inches tall and is basically an empty shell for programmers to get creative with. DARPA is using ATLAS for its Robotics Challenge to see who can make the best use out of the humanoid.

Adding humanoid robots will only tug on a soldier's heart strings even more due to something called anthropomorphism. This can cause a human to have compassion for inanimate objects that may have humanistic characteristics. Carpenter wants to know how human or animal-like looking robots would affect a soldier's ability to make rational decisions, especially if the soldier begins treating the robot with affection.

“You don’t want someone to hesitate using one of these robots if they have feelings toward the robot that goes beyond a tool,” she said. “If you feel emotionally attached to something, it will affect your decision-making.”