By Jocelyne Nguyen
Student researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have discovered that AI robots may just be the cure-all to rampant anxiety among college students.
That’s right! Laboratory research conducted on UCLA undergraduates has found that robot-human interactions lead to significantly lower levels of distress and irritability in comparison to human interactions. (Maybe that’s why the self check-out line is always so long?) In a lab setting, participants were interviewed for a hypothetical internship position, conducted by either an AI or a human. Post-experiment interviews and physiological measures of stress (e.g. heart rate) revealed significantly reduced rates of anxiety across all participants interviewed by the robots. Further, participants exhibited a strong preference for the robot interviewer, who was described as “easy to talk to,” “uncomplicated,” and “straightforward.”
Wait, there’s robots roaming around on campus?
A year ago, the findings caught the attention of SLUTS 4 STEM (S4S), a student association whose central mission is to “make UCLA stem innovation as accessible and applicable as possible for the greater wellbeing of UCLA students and the general public.” Upon hearing the news, Myron Kuchnek, co-founder of S4S and self-identified “stemmy slut,” immediately wrote to ASUCLA, requesting consent for a planned rollout of “Bot Buddies,” 20-inch tall interactive robots that conduct on-campus delivery & goods transportation directly to students and faculty.
Too good to be true?
At first, Chancellor GENE Block expressed some reservations: “Robot assistants on campus would definitely expedite things and improve students’ lives, but we worry that it comes with strings attached, the bulk of which will directly impact UCLA dining & service personnel.”
Two months after the release of this statement, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Hundreds of UCLA staff lost their jobs, and contactless interactions all over the country have skyrocketed. Due to the spread of the virus, S4S was finally able to make a successful case for the necessity of Bot Buddies (cha-ching!). On January 25th, they made their debut on campus.
Gasp! A real-life Black Mirror episode?
Yup. Regina G., a second-year transfer student majoring in Psych at the university, was one of the first people to interact with a Bot Buddy. When asked about her experience with the delivery service, she said, “It was such a good listener! Did y’all know? If you don’t press the ‘send away’ button, you got yourself a cute bot buddy coffee date! We talked for 40 minutes.” Still, others appreciated its human-ness. Rob. S, a first-year biz econ student, commented, “It was surprisingly pleasant to be around. Bro had a cool personality—friendly, easygoing. Even told me to ‘have a nice day.’ It was lit, yeah. Total homie.”
So what does this mean?
Budget projections by the UCLA Business & Finance Solutions office for university-backed funding of tech projects like Bot Buddies have steadily increased over the last decade, yet none have compared to the 27% budget increase announced this year.
Ever wondered why university tuition didn’t get reduced when the pandemic hit? ‘Cause it’s all going to the Bot Buddies, baby.