In the Loop

In the Loop: October 22, 2007 Archive

One day even Robot Weddings will be boring

Posted at 1:42 PM on October 22, 2007 by Sanden Totten (6 Comments)

It's not just me . . . a lot of people are thinking about robots these days.

There was this article from the New York Times magazine about humans accidentally assigning emotions to robots who really have none.

Jon Gordon talked about Roomba owners who are becoming emotionally attached to their little floor sucker in a recent episode of Future Tense.

And the icing on the cake . . . *ahem* . . . the wedding cake: this article from MSNBC about sex and love robot style. In it, one researcher gives us about 40 years before our relationships with robots become so intense that we not only take them to the sack . . . we drag them to the alter as well.

Okay, so somewhere out there in our collective unconscious we are all thinking the same thing. But is it really inevitable that we'll be forging human-robot relationships in the next 40 years?

I have my doubts. First, there is a little thing robot aficionados know as the Uncanny Valley. It's a well studied theory that says the closer a robot comes to looking and behaving like a human, the more we like it . . . until a point. When it crosses that point, still seeming real but not quite natural, we are greatly repelled by it. Think of the Frankenstein monster for some context. Also, even the highly specialized social robots have a long way to go before they can tap into some of the most basic aspects of human relationships, like recognizing moods and understanding someone else's perspective.

But people traveling with their Roomba?! Assigning emotions to bots that can barely smile?! I have to admit, there is something going on. I can't help but wonder though, if this isn't a case of wishful thinking. Hearing about all the coverage of Sputnik's big 50 year anniversary, you get the feeling folks back then thought we'd be partying on the moon by 2007. Realistically we are not much closer now than we were then.

But in the meantime, we can enjoy the fact that robots are making their way into our lives. The fact that we can have any relationship with them is pretty neat. And maybe I'll be way off the mark on this. Who knows, maybe my robot wife and I will laugh at this post 40 years from now. If so, I'm sorry I was so naive honey, let's not let it ruin our wonderful . . um, "relationship".

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