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article imagePsychologists determine how to spot a human from an android

By Tim Sandle     Mar 1, 2017 in Science
Sci-fi show Westworld shows the difficulty (and danger) in telling humans and androids apart. It needn’t be that difficult, according to a research group, at least with the types of androids that can be designed today.
In fact humans can tell the difference between another human and an android in less than a second, according to University of California, Berkeley scientists. This happens, the psychologists suggest, because people are visually conditioned to rapidly extract and process information and to make a quick judgments about what's real and what is not.
The researchers have traced a visual mechanism termed the "ensemble lifelikeness perception." This brain function determines how people perceive groups of objects and groups of people in real and virtual or artificial worlds.
Discussing the concept in a research note, principal scientist Allison Yamanashi Leib said: “This unique visual mechanism allows us to perceive what's really alive and what's simulated in just 250 milliseconds.”
The speed at which this happens was surprising since other scientists had assumed that people have to carefully consider various details prior to judging if a person or object is lifelike. The new study overturns this. The findings infer that such decisions are made without conscious deliberation. In other words, the decision are to whether something is lifelike or not is near on instantaneous.
For the research, the scientists used volunteer participants, running 12 studies on 68 people. Each participant was shown a series of images and were required to rate them in terms of “average lifelikeness”. The people were required to make judgements about the liveliness of groups of objects or people or entire scenes; sometimes the images were still and sometimes they flashed across a screen. The timings to do this were measured through the participants responses cross-checked with brain activity.
The researchers think the speediness in making such decisions is a survival characteristic. Without this ability the world would simply become too confusing.
The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications, under the heading “Fast ensemble representations for abstract visual impressions.”
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