All In The (Robotic) Family

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Nicholas West
      AP

As the evolution of humanoid robots continues to quicken, it is forcing the question of whether or not we we will love our robotic overlords. Or, are they not “overlords” at all, but soon to be just part of the family?

Well-known transhumanists such as Ray Kurzweil have made their love affair with robots quite clear, despite some already negative economic impacts that robots are having on their human counterparts. One of the stated missions after all is to supposedly unburden humanity from all of the grunt work.

All In The (Robotic) Family

Beyond the economic and military concerns, the commitment to neuroscience and reverse engineering the human brain coupled with the exponential increase in computing power is forcing the discussion toward the social impact robotics will have.

Robots and AI have already gained some level of interaction with humans. Currently it is a push-pull between competition and cooperation.

Here are just a few current examples:
A new study set out to discover just how far along we are in human-robot relations. German researchers from the International Communication Association made some revealing discoveries within a group of participants. In order to judge a strict emotional connection, two studies focused on empathy. Would people have empathy for something they knew not to be live being? And would they have the same level of empathy toward both humans and robots?

In the first study, 40 participants watched videos of a small dinosaur-shaped robot that was treated in an affectionate or a violent way and measured their level of physiological arousal and asked for their emotional state directly after the videos.

Participants reported feeling more negative watching the robot being abused and showed higher arousal during the negative video.

The second study used functional magnetic-resonance imaging (fMRI), to investigate potential brain correlations of human-robot interaction in contrast to human-human interaction.

The 14 participants were presented videos showing a human, a robot and an inanimate object, again being treated in either an affectionate or in a violent way.

Researchers found that individuals displayed similar neural activation patterns for affection, indicating that they elicit similar emotional reactions.

However, when comparing videos showing abusive behavior, participants showed more negative empathetic concern for humans. (Source)

This was a small group of participants, but it would seem that the edge for now is given slightly to humans.

However, it is interesting to note that the areas most often cited across the board as targeted for eliminating humans in favor of robotic “assistance” are the very vocations that would seem to require the most empathy:

  • Education
  • Emergency response
  • Helping the elderly and infirm
  • Patient rehabilitation

“One goal of current robotics research is to develop robotic companions that establish a long-term relationship with a human user, because robot companions can be useful and beneficial tools.

[…]

“A common problem is that a new technology is exciting at the beginning, but this effect wears off especially when it comes to tasks like boring and repetitive exercise in rehabilitation. The development and implementation of uniquely humanlike abilities in robots like theory of mind, emotion and empathy is considered to have the potential to solve this dilemma.”

One could question, then, if it is less a sign that robots are becoming more human, but that actually humans are becoming less so. Is the rise of the robots just a reflection of our own spiritual devolution?

As we look around at our largely selfish, consumer-driven, pharma drug-taking, and increasingly violent society, do we really need more encouragement to shirk our duties toward our fellow companions by effectively outsourcing our emotions to the non-living?

One Response

  1. Ray Kurzweil is a jew. He’s all for replacing the White man.

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