The Robots Are Winning — Let’s Give Up.

When the going gets tough, the tough get get going, right? While this saying might provide some motivation during trying times, it’s not always the case. Sometimes people give up, accept defeat, or at the very least put out less effort if the odds seem insurmountable. A Cornell University experiment found that people would get discouraged if they were outperformed by robots. This research regarding robot performance and human reaction could help improve the way that robots and humans interact in the workplace.

People don’t like to lose

Behavioral economists and psychologists alike have different theories about loss aversion, but it’s safe to say that people do not like losing. Loss aversion sometimes prevents people from participating in things that they won’t be good at, but what happens when you’re already in the middle of something and you start failing? Some people get discouraged and they give up.

The Cornell University experiment put humans against robots in a competition for cash prizes. The study examined how the performance of a robot influenced a human’s behavior while the two were in direct competition with one another.

When the robots outperformed the human contestants, the people thought less of their own abilities, they wouldn’t try as hard, and they disliked the robots that were beating them. In other words, if the robots were winning, humans threw in the towel.

Making more considerate robots

Imagine that you and a robot are both making bicycles. You work as hard as you can, and you produce one bicycle per hour. The robot, however, effortlessly cranks out five bicycles every hour, and they look better than the bikes you’ve made. How would this make you feel? Your work would suffer. Fears of being replaced by a robot, or even feelings of animosity towards the robot might surface as well.

This bicycle shop that puts humans and robots in direct competition doesn’t exist. The point here is that you don’t want humans and robots performing the same tasks without considering how that impacts the workers. Instead, robots should do things to improve the work that humans do.

Guy Hoffman, assistant professor at the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and a senior author of the study, points out that “Humans and machines already share many workplaces, sometimes working on similar or even identical tasks”.

As long as a task requires both human workers and automation, roboticists must consider the well being of the employees — including their emotional wellbeing.