Are You A Robot? Brain Region Detects Androids From Humans

A study from Japan reveals the brain region responsible for that uneasy feeling over unnatural android movements.

AsianScientist (Jan. 17, 2018) – Japanese researchers have identified a region in our brain responsible for detecting unnatural movement in humanoid robots, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.

Humanoid technology has advanced in leaps and bounds in the past few years with the creation of androids—robots with human-like features and capabilities. While androids are said to be more accessible and less scary than non-androids, they can sometimes induce a mysterious and uneasy feeling in human observers.

This phenomenon, dubbed “uncanny valley,” increases when the android’s appearance is almost human-like, but its movements are not as natural as compared to that of people. It has been the focus of studies for many years, but the neural mechanisms underlying the detection of unnatural movements remain unknown.

The challenge prompted a team of scientists, led by Dr. Takashi Ikeda of Osaka University, to delve into the neural underpinnings behind the detection of unnatural movement. First, they recorded movies of Geminoid F, an android developed by Osaka University and Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, and its actual human model. This allowed the researchers to investigate how a slight degree of unnatural motion would affect how we feel about the android.

Second, they used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate what brain regions are activated when participants observe android and human’s movements, which differ only slightly in naturalness.

According to their findings, the subthalamic nucleus (STN) of the brain is responsible for detecting a slight degree of awkwardness in the androids. Notably, overactivity in the STN, which plays an important role in motor control, is believed to contribute to the pathophysiology of Parkinson’s disease.

“Our data attest to commonalities between the movements of the android and Parkinson’s disease patients. The android’s movements were rigid and akinesic, comparable to the movements of patients with mild Parkinson’s disease,” explained Dr. Masayuki Hirata, a corresponding author on the study.

The study findings may help researchers design androids that reduce the uncanny feeling in human observers, and also further reveal the pathology of Parkinson’s disease.

The article can be found at: Ikeda et al. (2017) Subthalamic Nucleus Detects Unnatural Android Movement.


Source: Osaka University; Photo: Shutterstock.
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