Social Robots as Intentional Agents

Abstract: Social robots are robots that are intended for social interaction with people. Because of the societal benefits that they are expected to bring, social robots are likely to become more common. Notably, social robots may be able to perform tasks that require social skills, such as communicating efficiently, coordinating actions, managing relationships, and building trust and rapport. However, robotic systems currently lack most of the technological preconditions for interacting socially. This means that until the necessary technology is developed, humans will have to do most of the work coordinating social interactions with robots. However, social robots are a phenomenon that might also challenge the human ability to interact socially. In particular, the actions of social robots may be less predictable to the ordinary people who will interact with them than the comparable actions of humans. In anticipating the actions of other people, we commonly employ folk-psychological assumptions about what others are likely to believe, want, and intend to do, given the situation that they are in. Folk psychology allows us to make instantaneous, unconscious judgments about the likely actions of others around us, and therefore, to interact socially. However, the application of folk psychology will be challenged in the context of social interaction with robots because of significant differences between humans and robots.This thesis addresses the scope and limits of people's ability to interact socially with robots by treating them as intentional agents, i.e., agents whose behavior is most appropriately predicted by attributing it to underlying intentional states, such as beliefs and desires. The thesis provides an analysis of the problem(s) of attributing behavior-congruent intentional states to robots, with a particular focus on the perceptual belief problem, i.e., the problem of understanding what robots know (and do not know) about objects and events in the environment based on their perception. The thesis presents evidence that people's understanding of robots as intentional agents is important to their ability to interact socially with them but that it may also be significantly limited by (1) the extendability of the rich folk-psychological understanding that people have gained from sociocultural experiences with humans and other social animals to interactions with robots, and (2) the integrability of new experiences with robots into a usable and reasonable accurate folk psychological understanding of them. Studying the formation and application of folk psychology in interactions with robots should therefore be a central undertaking in social robotics research.

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