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Joe Stuteville
IU School of Informatics

Last modified: Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I, Robot; You, Human: IU android expert guides discussion in science journal

INDIANAPOLIS -- Can androids shine light into the murky world of autism and enable scientists to treat it and other psychiatric disorders? What can mechanical beings reveal about how we relate to one another as flesh-and-blood creations? And as these humanlike stand-ins continue to evolve, will they form relationships with us and lay claim to certain moral and legal rights?

These and other subjects are probed in December's Connection Science (Vol. 18, No. 4), a special issue co-edited by Karl F. MacDorman, associate professor at the School of Informatics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; and Hiroshi Ishiguro, director of the Intelligent Robotics Lab at Osaka University.

Karl MacDorman

Karl F. MacDorman

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MacDorman, who teaches the psychology of human-computer interaction and research design at IU, is among a handful of experts in the emerging field of android science, a cross-disciplinary approach to testing and, if possible, verifying hypotheses about human interaction. He worked with Ishiguro on the development of Repliee Q1Expo, an android that was introduced to the world at the 2005 World Exposition in Aizu, Japan.

"One advantage of using an android as an experimental apparatus is that it can be more precisely controlled than a human actor," MacDorman writes in the journal's introductory editorial. "It also has a physical presence, which is lacked by a video or computer simulation of a human being."

Moreover, in comparing human-human and human-robot interaction, an android controls better for the effects of appearance than a mechanical-looking robot.

"An android offers a good balance between experimental control and ecological validity because it looks more human than other devices and can support more humanlike interaction while still being precisely controllable," said MacDorman.

Repliee Q2

Photo by: Hiroshi Ishiguro

MacDorman helped develop the android Repliee Q2 (left).

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In the article, "What baboons, babies and Tetris players tell us about interaction: A biosocial view of norm-based social learning," written by MacDorman and Stephen J. Cowley, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, the researchers suggest that future androids may be endowed with features and programming that will enable them to establish and sustain relationships with people.

"The challenge today is to develop 'mindful' machines that use [physical] movements that can be experienced as expressions of purpose and intention" and in turn be mimicked by androids, the two researchers write.

Also in the special issue, Sherry Turkle explores how much simpler robots are already presenting ethical challenges. She and her colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology introduced the robot "baby seal" Paro into nursing homes in Massachusetts. By making eye contact, the robot gave the false impression of understanding people.

Although the effect was therapeutic, Turkle questions whether it is ethical to encourage people to have relationships that lack authenticity with machines. Turkle is Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and author of The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit and Life on the Screen.

To read articles in the December issue of Connection Science, go to,2,39;linkingpublicationresults,1:100630,1.

More information about MacDorman's android science research is at

Human computer-interaction design is a branch of informatics that studies and supports the design, development and implementation of humanly usable and socially acceptable information technologies. The IU School of Informatics offers graduate programs in human-computer interaction design at its Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses.

To arrange an interview with Karl MacDorman, contact Joe Stuteville at 317-946-9930 or