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Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto: Using MobLab Robots

Doug Norton
Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto . Our MobLab robots are programmed with simple strategies (available upon request) to make various economic lessons more salient and to fill incomplete groups in MobLab. Below is an overview of some best practices with using MobLab robots and our future plans for developing our robots.

Patience with adding robots

Students take knowledge of theory to be a prescription for action rather than a description of equilibrium . For that reason instructors often start their classes with MobLab games so student decisions aren't biased. The problem is that students sometimes-often-frequently roll in five minutes past the start time.Instructors are faced with a dilemma: To Add Robots or Wait ...When possible we advocate waiting. Running a competitive market game with 8/10 students is feasible. If two students stroll in late they can join the incomplete group en media res. But, if you filled the 8/10 group with robots those two latecomers would be in a new 2/10 group. You would need to add robots to fill that group. Alternatively, if the game were two-player and there were an odd number of students signed up adding a robot to help the one person might be helpful. Of course, you could always play against the odd-man-out with one of your test accounts.

Robots and Sentiment

I have some hot coffee. Suppose three different scenarios. First, I trip and spill coffee on you. Second, Michael Tay hits me with a 2x4 and causes me to spill coffee on you. Third, I walk up with an angry look and thrust some coffee on you. In all cases you are soaked with hot coffee. Not fun. But, you evaluate the outcome differently depending on the motives and context. Then, you respond accordingly. In short, intentions matter.Many of our games elicit strong feelings of unfairness or positive reciprocity. But, the unfairness is because he/she ought to know that the fair way to cut the cake is _______. Or, they didn't have to trust me but they did. Therefore, I should reward them. But, robots don't have intentions.In an Ultimatum Game do people respond the same way to robots? If a robot splits a $100 pie $99/$1 would you reject it? If a robot is very trusting in a Trust Game do we reciprocate? In both cases, the likelihood is lower. For example, Blount (1995) finds that subjects are more likely to accept low offers if generated by a computer than by a human.Robots can be used to delve into norms and our sense of fairness.

Robots and online play

Soon we will be releasing our Online Scheduler. That will make it easy to schedule games to run at different times. Until then, clicking the box "Robots Only" is a good bet. Students don't need to be on the platform simultaneously since each student plays with a group that is filled with robots. Of course, this restricts some of the game manipulations that make sense (e.g. communication). But, the robots provide a smooth experience for online users.

Robots in the Future

Currently in the Prisoner's Dilemma (or Push/Pull) game robots are programmed to make a random cooperate/defect decision. In the future we would like to provide our instructors with a menu of of options like tit-for-tat, grim trigger, pavlov, etc. for robot strategies in Prisoner's Dilemma games (and others).