How to give a robot vacuum the appeal of real personality

Don't. Seriously. Just don't.

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Of all the things you might want a robot vacuum for, personality is probably not high on the list.

Nevertheless, robot-intelligence researchers have glommed on to the humble robot vacuum as the next thing to be improved by the dramatic enhancement in the interactions between humans and robots that display some amount of personality, rather than just going about their jobs blandly and systematically.

To figure out what constitutes a personality and how to impose it on a vacuum, researchers, from Delft University of Technology and Philips Research in the Netherlands created a bland, systemic analysis.

The examined the Five-Factor personality component model (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, which leaves out agreeable neuroticism because it is the trait that makes sitcoms work, not robots).

They examined levels of performance among different vacuum robots, methods of cleaning that include the pseudo-random and straight-line techniques, and tried to boil down what personality traits would enhance for humans the experience of having a thick dinner place bump around noisily cleaning a floor half as well in five times as long as a regular vacuum.

To really nail down the traits that would appeal to people, they did something far more interesting than any robot researchers have done before, or admitted to in public: they hired a bunch of actors to act out the part of the robot doing certain things – cleaning a spot on the carpet, for example, getting stuck under the couch, or scaring the dog.

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