Humans Get Aroused When Touching Robots Intimately, Finds Science

Of course, what the brightest minds in Silicon Valley are up to these days is testing human reaction to feeling up robots. This experiment out of Stanford University showed that people get aroused when touching robots intimately, much the same way they do when touching other humans intimately.

Researchers Jamy Li, Wendy Ju, and Byron Reeves gathered 10 students (right- and left-handed) and ran two tests with them using a human-like robot, which they had programmed to instruct participants to touch certain parts of its body. Participants wore sensors that tracked the electrical conductance of their skin (literally, the "spark" we talk about feeling when there's a chemical reaction to touching someone), as they were told by the 'bot first, to point to different parts of its "body" (including eyes, neck, buttocks, and its "nonarticulated genital area"), and then later, to touch those parts.

Thirteen "body parts" were covered by the tests in all, researchers found that when subjects touched what we perceive to be "private" body parts — bits we typically only touch on another person when we know them intimately — there was a spike in their skin's electrical conductance. That doesn't necessarily mean that participants were sexually aroused, but the important thing to note is that they became more alert in the same way they would touching a human butt, eye, or (articulated) genital area. Simply pointing to the body parts on the robot had no effect on arousal.

Futhermore (and kind of adorably), researchers found that participants were also more hesitant to touch the intimate areas of the robot — 80 percent of them took longer to touch butts, etc., than they did to touch less intimately charged zones. Hooray for confirming enthusiastic robot-consent first!

"There was a tendency to treat the robot like it had social rules that applied to it," said Li, unpacking the implications of humans feeling an emotional connection with AI that also resembles humans.

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