Yes, Your Roomba Has a Personality

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When you're trapped at home during a global pandemic, you look for interactions anywhere you can. Maybe you've imagined your pet has a rich inner life and are putting it all on TikTok. Maybe your robot vacuum cleaner has become your child, your pet — or your pushy mechanical overlord.

You're far from alone in feeling like this. Computer scientists at Oregon State University have just published a study entirely about robot personalities. The team of researchers were able to create patterns of movement in a vacuum-cleaning robot that led study participants to identify which of the Seven Dwarves it was. Participants only had to choose between Sleepy, Grumpy, and Happy, but they also anthropomorphized the robot enough to reliably ascribe it an entire personality.

This might seem like a fun bit of trivia, but it was wider implications for our future. Analysts and engineers both believe that going forward, more and more of our labor will be undertaken by robots, and we have mixed feelings about it. We're more likely to get annoyed at robots when we believe they're autonomous, but we don't mind them "taking our jobs" as much as other people stepping into our roles.

Economists at MIT estimate that in the United States, one robot can replace between 3.3 and 6.6 jobs in certain manufacturing sectors. Combine robotics with the growing relevance of AI in consumer products and even services and we might do well to find our way to liking our Roombas in every possible niche.