Kate Darling, MIT Media Lab at The Conference 2015. Photo: www.jesperberg.se

Humans and Robots

Mistress of Machines, Robot Ethics and Intellectual Property Theory. Interview with Kate Darling, MIT Media Lab.

This year’s incidents of robot abuse against HitchBot and Pepper set off a wild debate about robot ethics. People from across the world joined the discussions on Twitter to either show their support for robots or their opposition.

After her talk from The Conference 2015, we interviewed Kate Darling, Research Specialist MIT Media Lab and leading expert in social robotics and human-robot interaction about her research in this field. Also available as video.

What is the center theme of your research?

My research looks at peoples’ emotional responses to robots. So peoples’ willingness to treat robots as if they were alive through anthropomorphism and interaction with robots in the way of them being social actors.

Could you elaborate on how your research affect humans and how they affect companies and organizations?

I think it’s beginning to affect a lot of people. Robots are moving from being in the background in factories into all these new areas of our lives, households and workplaces. We are starting to see people develop these very interesting relationships to the robots that they are engaging with. It’s going to affect all of us because the robots are going to be everywhere.

Can you give us an example of in what ways it will affect us?

For an example there has been some recent stories of people getting very upset about robots getting beat up or broken. Robots that look very alive and very human. I think that people will start treating robots or certain robots more like living things than devices and machines. This is going to affect a lot of different areas, perhaps even legal regulation as we move forward.

Why are you researching this subject? And why do you think it is important?

I think it’s important because a lot of the discussions in robotics right now is about topics like autonomous weapon systems, war and privacy which are probably more important but they are getting comparatively more attention than robot ethics. This is an issue that a lot of people don’t think about and that is why it’s important to research and work on this subject.

So how do you do your research?

I have been doing some experimental work where people come into the lab and we watch them interact with robots to look at what factors matter in peoples’ emotional responses. And I have also been writing and speaking about the policy implications of the research and our findings.

Can you share some of your findings in your research?

Oh, sure. We just recently did a study where we found that people who have natural trade empathy (empathic concern for other people), will respond very strongly to robots that are personified. They wont want to hurt them or abuse them even though they know that it’s just a robot. It seems like the natural empathy that we have for other humans and animals tend to translate to robots which I think is very interesting.

Kate Darling spoke at The Conference 2015 in Malmö, a human-centered conference with the themes new technology, human behavior and how to make it happen. All talks are available in the 250+ video archive.

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