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The Potential of Social Robotics

Kate Darling's Talk on Human-Robot Interaction Impacts Behavior

— October 17, 2018 — Keynote Trends
Kate Darling — a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a leading robot ethicist, delivers a TED talk on human-robot interaction that explores the potential for positive behavioral impact. The speaker assesses the degree of empathy, which we, as humans, are biologically hardwired to apply to life-like objects. That is, Darling maintains that human beings are inclined "to project intent and life onto any movement in our physical space" even if we are aware that it is autonomous and void of feelings.

As the future is fast-progressing, developments in robotics are ever-more impressive — from machine learning algorithms to robots that can pass the Turing test. Thus, the TED talk on human-robot interaction dives deep into the positive uses of the available technologies, as well as the behavioral implications that come with them. To better illustrate her projected future, Kate Darling equates our treatment of robots to be somewhat analogous to our relationship with animals. The speaker does not imply that robots have feelings but rather that our feelings toward the machines are a valuable resource.

The talk on human-robot interaction highlights the incessant need to address and understand how autonomous devices affect behavior in order to avoid inefficient and even dangerous situations. Kate Darling briefly talks about the positive impact of the PARO baby seal robot which is used to aid people with dementia. She also calls attention to the fact that violent tendencies against robots fall in a grey area, where it is not fully clear if it is "a healthy outlet for violent behavior" or a way to "train our cruelty muscles."

Kate Darling's talk on human-robot interaction speculates about the empathy we feel toward machines and how that will translate in the future with regard to social norms, rules, and human behavior in general.