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In my world androids are a common feature in American households. Manufacturers want to design robots that consumers can get emotionally attached to. From what I know about psychology, a human-looking face is most comforting to a human. I plan on making the robots in my story, more, pulp sci-fi, non-human metal looking creatures. But, my question is: why might a manufacturer go for that design instead of making their robots look human?

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    $\begingroup$ You are asking a lot of questions. What happened to your idea about retrieving your old account? It would make things so much easier for you to keep track of your questions if you registered and merged all of your accounts and it would also be easier for others who might be interested in your questions. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Jul 5, 2018 at 11:13
  • $\begingroup$ I think your assumption that having a stranger controlled by some company moving in with you and then even paying for it is comforting to a normal human is just completely wrong - except for very specific circumstances in which making them some creature is just not an option anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Jul 5, 2018 at 11:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Secespitus: I can’t, I doesn’t work when I try to register. I’m naming all my accounts DT Cooper so that when I can register, I can find all my accounts $\endgroup$
    – DT Cooper
    Jul 5, 2018 at 11:14
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    $\begingroup$ I’m pretty sure the definition of ‘android’ is a robot designed to imitate a human to a lesser or greater degree. I assume you want it at the bottom end of looking human while still keeping the humanoid body plan? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Jul 5, 2018 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs If you want to be really pedantic an android is meant resemble a male human. Though it seems like few care to make the distinction between android and gynoid, and I've never seen anyone even consider saying "anthroid". $\endgroup$ Jul 5, 2018 at 15:24

5 Answers 5

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The Uncanny Valley

Before you keep reading, please check the following advert.

Persona Synthetics: The New Generation

(Shift+click for new window / Ctrl+click for new tab)

Now... why did that creep you out?

Because of a phenomena called The Uncanny Valley. In short this means that the affection people feel for a robot is directly related to how closely that robot resembles a human, except when the robot looks almost entirely human, but not quite. Then acceptance takes a sudden dip, because that robot looks uncanny.

enter image description here

Your company is essentially Persona Synthetics's american branch, and the video above shows that your androids will — unless you can make them entirely like and indistinguishable from us — freak out the customers.

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    $\begingroup$ What I did with a paragraph you did with a thoroughly creepy graph. +1 $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Jul 5, 2018 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ Uhhh, those pictures kinda creep me out $\endgroup$
    – DT Cooper
    Jul 5, 2018 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ @DTCooper That's the entire point of the answer. $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Jul 5, 2018 at 11:47
  • $\begingroup$ @F1Krazy: I saw the pictures before I read $\endgroup$
    – DT Cooper
    Jul 5, 2018 at 11:48
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There are two main reasons, but first let me introduce you to the concept of the uncanny valley.

You’re right in your assertion that a human face and behaviours are more comforting than non-human, however there is a point (the uncanny valley) where things are close enough to human to be really unnerving but not close enough to actually pass for human. That point is more disturbing than simply having a robot that looks like a robot. Once you break past the uncanny valley you have humans that can pass for human.

Now, the two reasons:

Money

It costs too much, either to develop and maintain the machinery and behavioural protocols to keep androids human enough to not be weird, or purely in manufacture and maintenance costs. Why bother with an immensely complex reactive Synthetic Face (tm) when you can just bolt on a steel face mask? The former breaks more often and costs more to make/replace, and cost more to develop in the first place!

They're too human

This is more a socio-political problem. Once you have a human looking android that’s past the uncanny valley, how long before you have an android that can hide among humans? How will people react if they can’t tell who is human and who is an android that could tear off their arm and beat them to death with it? The simplest way to avoid this is to give your robots a nice, disarming very definitely not human face. Possibly something white and curvy.

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The other day I read a joke on the internet:

Are you more afraid of an AI passing the Turing test, or of an AI intentionally failing it?

This joke, if taken seriously, can help answer your question. When an AI is so advanced that cannot be distinguished by a human, one needs a visual clue that the thing they are speaking to is an android and not a human.

See what happens with R. Daneel Olivaw in Asimov's The Cave of Steel.

So, going for a clear non human look gives an immediate solution to the problem.

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It's against the law

Maybe your government has decided for some reason to ban human-like androids.

Although the comparison is quite a stretch, many governments impose limits on how realistic toy-guns are allowed to look.

An android in public might be perceived as a surveillance device. Humans have limited capability of hearing and seeing everything in their surroundings, they forget a lot, etc. So, even in a human crowd we don't feel spied upon. However, enter the android. It can record everthing, has probably very sensitive sensors, etc.

So, your government reached the conclusion to ban human-like androids. So, whenever you step onto the street you can tell humans from androids, even at a distance.

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The answers about the uncanny valley are great. Another answer is because if they look like a human, people will expect them to act like one. If the AI can't perfectly mimic human behavior, people will become frustrated easily, and begin to not like this strange frustrating 'person'. Why can't my butler understand? Why can't he act normal?

So robot companies might realize that people will have less emotional resentment for their robot's mistakes if the robot comes across as something other than a human. It would still need to look appealing and life-like, but you could make people see it as like a pet. Most people can realize that their pets have fundamental limitations and must be forgiven for the way they are.

If I tell my human friend to stay put, and he's not there when I come back because a pigeon flew by him and now he's chasing it down the street, he's an immature nutjob and I'm angry at him. If my dog does the same thing, I think "you tried, but the pigeon was just too much for you. You have less impulse control because you're a dog" and I forgive.

Similarly if I tell my human-looking android named Steve to welcome my friends to the party and he only welcomes the people he's explicitly heard me refer to as a friend, and stares mutely at my acquaintances, then he's very rude. Why can't he act normal? WTF Steve. But if my robo-dog named Sparky does the same, we can all have a good laugh about it. Oh it's cute he has less understanding of social nuance because he's a robot. Oh sparky you tried your best. Good boy.

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    $\begingroup$ ..or the other way round: AIs have superhuman understanding and know what you want from them before you say so, and you have to distinguish humans from them to not be embarrassed or irritated by human slowness and lack of understanding. This could be a more possible scenario if there are way more ai robots than humans and it is seldom to interact with a real human. $\endgroup$ Jul 5, 2018 at 15:39

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