sociable robots

Making Robotic Whoopie

I’ve been on this kick of reading books that illuminate how our immediate future will soon resemble a Philip K. Dick novel.

The latest was Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle. Turkle is a professor at MIT. She is able to understand science stuff even though she possesses a vagina, and didn’t get the memo from possible future fed head Lawrence Summers that chicks should stick to their capabilities like cooking and transvaginal wand-mounting.

barbiedum

Turkle was teaching when Joseph Weizenbaum unveiled the ELIZA program in the 1970s. ELIZA was a computer program where users could engage in a conversation with a machine. Like a person could type “My boyfriend is making me sad” and get the response “Tell me more about your boyfriend.” Weizenbaum found his students wanted to be alone with ELIZA and was alarmed by their attachment to it.

Today, the talk is of sociable robots caring for our elderly in nursing homes. Nursing homes are already using Paro, the robotic seal, to provide comfort to patients with dementia.

paroRobots are also being considered as caretakers for children to free up adults so they have more time to spend on tweeting about their on-again, off-again relationship with Siri and Instagramming their dic picks.

Turkle is not a fan of this nor of the inevitable future of human-robot relationships. She believes people–children especially–need to be around other humans to keep that pesky thing called empathy alive. Empathy is like soooooo 1994.

Research–the thing that’s the opposite of gut reaction–is showing that Americans are increasingly insecure, isolated and lonely.

Turkle believes the future of robots as love partners will compound this.  It is the gateway to new narcissistic experiences. The robot is cast in the role of what you need. You can power it off when it begins to nag you about the dishes. How can it be a relationship if one of the parties is not really alive and capable of human emotions? I’ll tell ya how.

roombaI can see some advantages to a robot partner, for example:

  • farting freely
  • minimal engagement with the in-laws since they don’t exist
  • dance marathon advantage

But I may be siding with Turkle on this one. It seems very much like dating oneself and who would want to do that?

kanyeAs of now, we seem more fixated on our distraction devices than we are on our relationships to people who physically occupy the same room. Go to any airport and you’ll see what I mean. At some point, I can see people becoming frustrated with their robot partners, which will inevitably lead to this:

cosmo

And no one wants that.