Embodied Digital Technologies: First Insights in the Social and Legal Perception of Robots and Users of Prostheses

Front Robot AI. 2022 Apr 11:9:787970. doi: 10.3389/frobt.2022.787970. eCollection 2022.


New bionic technologies and robots are becoming increasingly common in workspaces and private spheres. It is thus crucial to understand concerns regarding their use in social and legal terms and the qualities they should possess to be accepted as 'co-workers'. Previous research in these areas used the Stereotype Content Model to investigate, for example, attributions of Warmth and Competence towards people who use bionic prostheses, cyborgs, and robots. In the present study, we propose to differentiate the Warmth dimension into the dimensions of Sociability and Morality to gain deeper insight into how people with or without bionic prostheses are perceived. In addition, we extend our research to the perception of robots. Since legal aspects need to be considered if robots are expected to be 'co-workers', for the first time, we also evaluated current perceptions of robots in terms of legal aspects. We conducted two studies: In Study 1, participants rated visual stimuli of individuals with or without disabilities and low- or high-tech prostheses, and robots of different levels of Anthropomorphism in terms of perceived Competence, Sociability, and Morality. In Study 2, participants rated robots of different levels of Anthropomorphism in terms of perceived Competence, Sociability, and Morality, and additionally, Legal Personality, and Decision-Making Authority. We also controlled for participants' personality. Results showed that attributions of Competence and Morality varied as a function of the technical sophistication of the prostheses. For robots, Competence attributions were negatively related to Anthropomorphism. Perception of Sociability, Morality, Legal Personality, and Decision-Making Authority varied as functions of Anthropomorphism. Overall, this study contributes to technological design, which aims to ensure high acceptance and minimal undesirable side effects, both with regard to the application of bionic instruments and robotics. Additionally, first insights into whether more anthropomorphized robots will need to be considered differently in terms of legal practice are given.

Keywords: anthropomorphism; bionics; legal perception; prosthetics; robots; social perception; stereotypes.