Yelp for Robots

Can Customer Reviews Establish Trust Between People and a Self-Driving Car?

“We prefer brand new cars, but experienced drivers. So, What about self-driving cars?”

Trust is fundamental to any type of social interaction. As robots are becoming better at assisting  people in various tasks, is it essential to investigate how trust can be established between robots and the general public.  A recent Wired article suggests companies such as Uber and Airbnb have developed a reviews-ratings-based  eco-system that reintroduced “trust” to the public. I was interested to find out how people would relate to service robots once a review platform was established.  I wanted to test whether people’s attitudes toward reviews of services carried over to robots. So on a recent trip to New York, I illustrated a fictional customer review platform and asked people on the street for their reactions to self-driving cars.

I showed participants a mock up of a car service and explained that it was for self-driving cars. I told them that customers could review their trips (just as with Uber or Yelp)  and asked which car they’d choose to ride with based on the reviews..

a. A brand new car with no reviews yet.

b. A car with 15 good reviews and no bad reviews.

c.  A car with 105 reviews and a few bad reviews.

Among a dozen participants, 8 said that Car C seemed the most reliable even though they were told that cars would sync date all the time which means they are all equally “experienced” and  “intelligent”.When asked why option c felt most reliable (even though c has some bad reviews), a number of participants responded that imperfect reviews  seemed more realistic for certain reason.  It seems that the reviews platform influenced people to relate  to and evaluate a robotic car similarly to the manner in which they would evaluate human drivers.

This small experiment is just a snapshot of how a review system could affect people’s perception of the reliability of robots. The overall positive response made me think about a bigger question: Could this be a key for developing the public’s trust towards service robots, with a Yelp for robots?        

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