People Are Having Worrisome Emotional Responses to Robots

Robotics

Robots, in a few years or so, will not be such a foreign object in our lives anymore, and so many are already having emotional responses to these otherwise non-sentient things in their lives / Photo by: DLR German Aerospace Center via Wikimedia Commons

 

Robots, in a few years or so, will not be such a foreign object in our lives anymore, and so many are already having emotional responses to these otherwise non-sentient things in their lives.

According to 42-year-old marketing and customer service director in Bedford, Texas Christal White, in an interview with The Denver Post, she had love in her heart for their robot Jibo, the humanoid robot in their house that danced with her sometimes and did word games with her. At first, it was an odd relationship. She felt it bothered her work, especially since the robot would sometimes interrupt her conference calls.

But when news arrived via Jibo itself that it would be shutting down because of the maker having levied the product in his collapsing business, White was surprisingly devastated by the news.

“My heart broke,” she said. “It was like an annoying dog that you don’t really like because it’s your husband’s dog. But then you realize you actually loved it all along.”

It’s not as bizarre, though, after all, humans have always been known to form bonds with the most unusual things and the most unusual people. What makes this story have gravity is the fact that White had felt this with a robot that she more or less always had around, whereas even those who were not as “connected” to robots like the Mars Opportunity rover still somehow felt the same way.

 

Why is that?

It turns out, it’s not that hard to crack the code. According to Julie Carpenter, a researcher who focuses on this exact oddity, humans tend to feel a connection to robots even if they’re technically not “alive” when these robots have “something resembling a face” or a body that “resembles those of humans or animals” (evident in the collective world eventually calling the Mars Opportunity “space doggo”), or appears "self-directed, such as a Roomba robot vacuum.”

Carpenter said humans had a tendency to think this mainly because humans associate self-direction with a manifestation of autonomy; therefore, there must be something in the robot that gives it purpose or goals, like humans do.