Museum of Science, Boston

Humans vs. robots

What do children believe about artificial life?

Children are growing up in a computational culture, and have been exposed to a variety of digital objects and virtual worlds. This study examines how children’s ideas about human life may be shifting due to familiarity with technology.

Children, aged 5-7 and 9-11, will participate in several tasks set up like matching games. In some, children are shown pictures of humans, animals, and robots, and are asked to choose which entities are most similar to one another based on the information available. In others, children are told stories describing a group of special doctors that perform operations. In each story, either a human is given robot parts, or a robot is given human parts. Children are asked whether the character changes identity or remains the same.

Previous research has shown that children tend to privilege biological factors when assessing entities in the world. However, other research has shown that exposure to computers may challenge children’s ideas about life. We are interested in understanding children’s ideas about the relationship between biological and artificial life. We predict that children in today’s digital world are less likely than adults to distinguish between biological and artificial life.

Learn about other research related to Human Biology.

This research is conducted by the Arts and Mind Lab at Boston College

Try it at the Museum

Flat Chat

Chat with Tinker, the virtual interactive guide in the Cahners Computerplace. Is Tinker male or female, or neither? What is “human” about Tinker, and what isn’t?

Is it alive? Is it human?

Observe the cotton-top tamarins in the Human Body Connection. What do they have in common with humans? Do their faces show human-like expressions? Do they communicate? What is different from humans? Watch how the tamarins interact with one another and with you. Does their behavior have the same purpose as human behavior?

Investigate the DNA molecule models. Are the models alive? Is the DNA in your cells alive? Why or why not? Now try exploring the Circular Tree of Life. If a segment of DNA is found in humans and in other living things, is it human?

Try it at Home

Human Qualities

Take a walk through your family’s home. What things do you treat as if they were human? What is it about your interaction that is human-like?