Saturday, February 24, 2018

People Don't Like to Hurt Toys

i. The Ethics of Darling

While I fixed up Holey the Bear yesterday, I enjoyed listening to a few hours of NPR's podcast Hidden Brain.  I love stuff about our mental blind spots, and that's what this show is about:
"Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain explores the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases and triggers that shape our choices..."
The episode "Radio Replay: I, Robot" [embedded at end of this post*] is an interview with Dr. Kate Darling about toy robots that seem like sentient beings--like live animals. 

Darling is a researcher at the MIT Media Lab and an expert in robot ethics--something that has interested me ever since I watched the Star Trek: Next Generation episode "Measure of a Man" about whether or not the android Data is a sentient being or more like a toaster.  

Darling argues pretty much what Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) does to Captain Picard--that the ethical issue around how we treat robots  isn't about the robot, it's about the humans:
What does mistreating something lifelike--even when we know it isn't alive--do to us? 

Darling's research shows that most people don't want to hurt robot toys. She set up an experiment where a group of people gave their robots names and interacted with them. Then, when ordered to, the people refused to harm the robots. . . until the researchers said they would destroy all the robots unless one of the humans destroyed one, and then someone did.
(But... how is it ethical to manipulate someone to destroy something personified?)

Further research showed that people who didn't care about destroying toys that seem alive also rank, as you might guess, low on empathy.

Darling also gave a talk on youTube on "Ethics of Human-Robot Interaction". 

She starts by talking about how HitchBOT, a mechanical robot, managed to hitchhike all across Canada before somebody vandalized him (it) beyond repair––
in Philadelphia––
and how people expressed grief about this on Twitter (left).

*Darling's Hidden Brain interview starts at 23:15.
(The first half is about how questions we ask Google anonymously reveal hidden truths about ourselves.)


Bink said...

i can anthropomorphise pretty much anything. As I child I had to “say goodbye” to a grungy old chair in the basement, where I usually sat and watched tv. It was painful. I wept. I could not kill a robot, unless compelled or blackmailed into it. It doesn’t help that I still miss my Robby the Robot toy and suffer guilt— to this day!—that I left batteries in him that corroded.

Anonymous said...

Computers are gaining senses. First sight. Then sound. Touch. We still have taste and smell on them.

Fresca said...

BINK: Yes, me too--I get attached to all sorts of Things.
I even mourn your Robby the Robot, and I never even met him!

ANON: It's amazing, isn't it, the gains in AI in recent years.