Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Manufactured helpmates

Humans have long displayed an uncanny ability to make emotional connections with their manufactured helpmates.

Even in the face of possible snickering, I admit that there is a stuffed bear in my life. I have old shirts that I won't part with because of the memories. 4 different apartments have played gallery to pictures my college roommate colored for me. I can easily see myself getting attached to a robot.

Digital pets like the Tamagotchi or the Furby, designed to be cute, have long caused children to make spooky levels of connection.

But children aren't the only ones. The Washington Post has a fascinating article about the relationships humans develop with intelligent machines. To the soldiers they work with, robots can become family. Losing a robot IS losing one of the team. These inanimate objects have been promoted, awarded purple hearts, and grieved for.

What's remakable about the battle bots is that humans bond with them even though their designers have made no attempt to load them with emotional cues.

What does this mean for the military? What does it mean for us?

In Cast Away, Tom Hanks risks his own life to save a volleyball named Wilson, who has become his best friend and confidant.

What if people started turning to robots to fulfill their emotional needs instead of turning to people?

The 2 million personal bots in use around the world in 2004 are expected to grow to 7 million next year. The South Korean Ministry of Information and Communication hopes to put a bot in every home there within six years.

Predicting the results of a personal robot in every home is probably as futile as trying to predict the results of a personal computer on every desk was 40 years ago...but it might be a challenge worth facing.


[Italics are quotations from the Post story]

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