Racism May Extend to Robots

The racist clichés are, unfortunately, familiar: Black people possess enormous strength. That makes them potential threats.

New research suggests this pernicious prejudice may also apply to robots.

Participants in a recently published study “appeared to be more fearful of black robots just because they were black,” writes a Mississippi State University research team led by Jeannice Louine and David C. May. “These findings suggest that common perceptions, or misperceptions, of humans transcend human relationships.”

The study, published in the journal Sociological Inquiry, featured an online survey in which adult participants reported their perception of three robots, and “predicted how they would behave in the event that they interacted with a robot.”

In the first, the 253 participants were shown pictures of robots of three colors—black, yellow, and beige. After viewing each, they were asked to fill out a questionnaire measuring their response to that specific machine. They were asked how likable, helpful, and trustworthy it was, how caring and compassionate it seemed, and the extent to which they considered it friendly, reliable, and competent.

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