Documenting the Coming Singularity

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Will Humans Become Attached to Robots?

Many have speculated about how humanity will react to robots. There are researchers who are focused entirely on making robots look more like humans, adding facial expressiveness, gestures and head movements like nods and shakes, all designed to help us accept robots into our lives. But I don't think that's going to be a problem.

Humans, according to Rodney Brooks, director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, co-founder and chief technology officer of the pioneering firm iRobot and author of "Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us," "...have evolved to recognize instantly when an entity behaves like it's alive."

Consider the bond that develops between humans and their animal companions. We even form attachments to our cars! How much of a leap will it be to assimilate robotic friends into our circles of love? Not much of one, it seems. Just take a peek at the emotional connections that are being manifested between war fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan and their robot helpers.
Ted Bogosh recalls one day in Camp Victory, near Baghdad, when he was a Marine master sergeant running the robot repair shop.

That day, an explosive ordnance disposal technician walked through his door. The EODs, as they are known, are the people who -- with their robots -- are charged with disabling Iraq's most virulent scourge, the roadside improvised explosive device. In this fellow's hands was a small box. It contained the remains of his robot. He had named it Scooby-Doo.

"There wasn't a whole lot left of Scooby," Bogosh says. The biggest piece was its 3-by-3-by-4-inch head, containing its video camera. On the side had been painted "its battle list, its track record. This had been a really great robot."

The veteran explosives technician looming over Bogosh was visibly upset. He insisted he did not want a new robot. He wanted Scooby-Doo back.

"Sometimes they get a little emotional over it," Bogosh says. "Like having a pet dog. It attacks the IEDs, comes back, and attacks again. It becomes part of the team, gets a name. They get upset when anything happens to one of the team. They identify with the little robot quickly. They count on it a lot in a mission."
The more advanced they become, the more intelligence they manifest, the more attached we will become to them. And then we will add them to ourselves and become them. Stay tuned.


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