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Guess what? Drunk fish aren't afraid of robot fish

Scientists find that fish are scared of robot predators, but not when they're totally hammered.

This robotic Indian leaf fish seriously freaked out some zebrafish. Until they got hold of some ethanol.
Polytechnic Institute of New York University

When the robots take over, some of us might get scared. Others might be terrified. But the smart ones will be drunk.

Provided, that is, a new study on fish and robot fish can tell us anything about the human condition. In a piece of research that cries out for an Ig Nobel prize, scientists learned that alcohol can reduce the fear of scary robots in zebrafish.

Yes, beer goggles even work with robotic Indian leaf fish.

In the study published in Plos One, Maurizio Porfiri of Polytechnic Institute of New York University and colleagues designed a droid that looks and swims like the Indian leaf fish, a natural predator of zebrafish.

Perhaps to no great surprise, they found that when placed in a tank, zebrafish avoided the robot like the plague.

But when the zebrafish were exposed to ethanol in the water, those with the highest doses failed to flee their robotic foe.

And they seem to have been sloshed. The test setup apparently achieved "maximal blood and brain alcohol levels," according to the study.

The booze produced similar effects in other tests designed to invoke fear. Drunk zebrafish weren't too frightened by a dark tank compared with an illuminated one, and didn't mind too much when faced with a simulated heron attack.

That's to be expected, perhaps. But the study was more about establishing a robotic model for behavioral experiments, such as Uncanny Valley trials in which people are faced with slightly creepy androids to analyze the fear factor.

"The reason for the test was primarily to seek to develop a reliable experimental paradigm to study the effect of ethanol administration with the zebrafish animal model," Porfiri tells CNET.

"While we do not expect such tests to help us understand human robot interactions per se, they may improve our understanding of the effect of alcohol on human fear and anxiety."

I think the takeaway here is that whatever form factor robots come in, from fish to fembots, we will fight them. We will fight them and we will lose, but we won't care about losing.

Because we have enough alcohol to swim in.