Feeling reluctant to smash a robot to pieces and refusing to undress in front of one suggest we perceive robots as being "somewhat alive".
That's the view of Dr Christoph Bartneck, a University of Canterbury computer scientist at the forefront of human-robot interaction research for more than 10 years in New Zealand and overseas.
"Research studies show us people are reluctant to kill robots with perceived intelligence or that are thought to look human.
"Asking someone to kill a robot probably sounds dramatic but it's the ultimate test for life. We set up the experiment using robots with a range of human characteristics (very few through to many). We then ask people to kill or destroy each one and study their responses.
"We're interested in finding out why they do or don't want to take that step. Obviously, most people are well behaved and don't want to destroy property. But we have also found they are most reluctant to switch off or kill the robots with more human characteristics - the ones they perceive as more alive than the others."
Studies show people can get embarrassed around robots too, says Dr Bartneck.
"Particularly if a robot looks like us and we're asked to do something with it that we probably wouldn't do with a stranger - like take our clothes off, for example.
"From these research findings, we know people perceive some robots as having intentional behaviour and being somewhat alive. But we've got a fair way to go before we see them as our equals," he says.
Today Dr Bartneck is the academic director of UC's Human Interface Technology Lab New Zealand (HIT Lab NZ) and the leader of the University's Human-Robot Interaction Group which studies the way robots and people interact and commercialises technology.
"Our research into how people respond to robots - with empathy, embarrassment or simply by perceiving them as somewhat alive - is helping improve the way robots throughout the world are designed and perform," Dr Bartneck says.
"These days, robots are in our workplaces, our homes and they're part of our social lives. They're no longer the exclusive domain of industry. To be successful, they need to act appropriately and display the kind of human behaviour and adherence to social and cultural norms that we expect.
That's why Dr Bartneck's group of two academic staff, three PhD students and two master's students are working their way through an ambitious research programme focused on human-robot interaction.
"We're hoping to come up with a computer model for human characteristics within robots. This knowledge will create a huge leap forward in our field. Not only will it allow people to design robots with more human characteristics, it will also allow robots to express their human likeness by changing their behaviour and communicating.
"It'll take us another step closer to making robots that are more like us and maybe another step towards seeing them as our equals, who knows?" he says.
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