We often think of robots as merely assembly-line tools meant for physical labor. But they're capable of much more than that: like companionship, and even love.
Will we come to depend on robots as a source of empathy? And will we welcome them everywhere, from the boardroom to the bedroom? Research scientist Dr. Leila Takayama studies human-robot interaction at robotics lab Willow Garage, and has seen our relationship with bots evolve.
What's her take on our future bond with bots? Find out in the video above, and/or click the link below for a full transcript. And don't forget to sound off in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
BIANCA BOSKER: They can take out the trash, cook us dinner, and feed the dog. They can even make us laugh, smile, or cry. No, I’m not talking about our loved ones. I’m talking about robots, which are becoming more intelligent and socially aware. Some even say we'll soon have robots as our lovers. So could you have an emotional relationship with a robot? The answer might surprise you.
LEILA TAKAYAMA: In terms of people having emotions for those robots, people fall in love with their cars. And it’s a different kind of love than for other people, but it’s a real emotion and it’s a real thing that I can think we need to be looking at.
BB: Takayama, with Willow Garages's help, is building robots that can help you with household chores, and go to the office while you work from home. And that’s just the beginning. Researchers around the world are trying out robots that care for the elderly. And there are even people working on sex robots. Dr. Hooman Samani, a pioneer in the field of "lovotics," melding love and robotics, is creating robots that can actually kiss humans to let lovers smooch from afar. He's even testing robots that love and are loved by people. But what would make us bond with robots? In part, it's the same thing that makes us bond with people -- the ability to learn and use appropriate social cues.
LT: If the robot succeeds in opening a door so that it could do a task for you, it could look a little bit happy and that can actually help with the way that that robot feels appealing and approachable. Same thing if it fails, if that robot at least looks like it feels a little bad about failing, that increases the appeal and approachability and perceived competence of that robot.
BB: As it turns out, Emily Post could have a thing or two to teach a robot. Just like people, robots can alienate us by seeming rude and abrasive -- interrupting, crowding us in hallways or just running away.
LT: They have no manners. They know nothing about social intelligence. So a robot that’s trying to, say, navigate a hallway will just barrel through the middle of that group of people talking. And it’s not because it’s trying to be rude, but it is perceived as rude.
BB: Scientists like Takayama are now trying to teach robots manners and social skills -- like how to give a human the right personal space. But here's the catch: even people with bad manners have the advantage of being able to pick up on things robots can’t, like facial cues, tone of voice and body language. So, do these bots stand a chance?
LT: There’s a lot of subtlety in things like timing. Knowing when to talk, knowing when to listen. Knowing when someone wants to interact with you, and knowing when they’d rather withdraw and be on their own. But it’s hard for people, and it’s going to be hard for robots too.
BB: So the real question is, would you want a robot as your best friend? Tell us what you think.
To keep the conversation going, check out this recent HuffPost Live segment on human-robot interaction.
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