Human workers aren't just happy to take orders from robots in the workplace - they prefer it

New study put humans to work with a robot assembling Lego models

Even the most optimistic of economic forecasters agree that robots are taking our jobs. Not all of them, certainly, and not overnight, but it’s happening, and with this in mind researchers have begun exploring a potentially touchy subject in the workplace of the future: what happens when a robot tells you what to do?

As it turns out, good things. A new study simulating a production line staffed by humans and robots has found that not only are we comfortable taking orders from robots, but that we actively prefer it, believing that robotic guidance increases efficiency and removes the problem of ego from the command chain.

“In our research we were seeking to find that sweet spot for ensuring that the human workforce is both satisfied and productive,” Matthew Gombolay, lead author on the study conducted by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) told MIT News. “We discovered that the answer is to actually give machines more autonomy, if it helps people to work together more fluently with robot teammate.”

The researchers came to this conclusion after setting up production line staffed by two humans and one robot (a human sized model on wheels with a pair of articulated arms known as the PR2) and tested three set-ups: with a human in charge of everyone; with a robot in charge of everyone; and with a robot in charge of just one human.

A PR2 robot hands lego pieces to Matthew Gombolay (front) with fellow researcher Giancarlo Sturla in the background. Image credit: Jason Dorfman/CSAIL

The second ‘fully autonomous’ set-up not only proved to be the most effective at the task at hand (putting together Lego models) but was the most satisfying for the two humans, with the robot deemed to be best suited to the task of scheduling the different steps in the assembly process.

However, there were many limitations to the study, with Mr Gombolay pointing out that human co-cooperation with robots very much depends on how the robots are perceived. In the case of this particular study, the robot involved appeared dextrous and vaguely humanoid (the arms are situated where a human’s would be and there’s a ‘head’ containing sensors) which may have led humans to feel happier under its command trust it more.

Speaking to Motherboard, Mr Gombolay added that this could have one of two outcomes: “People could inappropriately rely on a robot that is not capable of adequately performing a task,” or “people could also dismiss a system that could be incredibly beneficial if it does not appear intelligent.”

The researchers hastened to add that all the algorithms used by the robots to coordinate were written by human coders. So if you’re not happy about the idea of being told what to do by a robot, you better learn to code so you can tell a robot what to do.                                  

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician - 2nd / 3rd Line

    £26000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Technician is req...

    Recruitment Genius: 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

    £18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant - Global Leader - FTSE 250

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: As an Associate Recruitment C...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most