A study published by New Zealand’s University of Canterbury reported that humans tend to apply their racial biases to white and black robots.
The study, “Robots and Racism,” conducted by New Zealand’s Human Interface Technology Laboratory, indicated people ascribe racial backgrounds to human-like robots and apply racial stereotypes accordingly.
If proliferation of robots increases, this association could present a serious issue, according to the study.
“If robots are supposed to function as teachers, friends, or carers, for instance, then it will be a serious problem if all of these roles are only ever occupied by robots that are racialized as White," it states.
Researchers found that in a “shooter bias” test, in which subjects were instructed to “shoot” robots appearing on a screen holding a weapon, subjects shot the black, unarmed robots more often than white unarmed ones, according to the research.
In a second study, researchers added lighter-brown robots and found that increased diversity eroded participants’ “racial” bias, which "potentially means that diversification of robots might lead to a reduction in racial bias towards them,” the study authors wrote.
"This leads me to believe that we have everything to win by offering racial options and nothing to lose," lead researcher Christoph Bartneck told CNN. "In the same way that we do want Barbie dolls in all colors and shapes, we also want robots in more than just white."