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Alone Together (Part Four) June 30, 2012

The computer scientist says, that we will evolve to love our tools, our tools will evolve to be lovable. Tools will allow us to do things that we’ve never done before. John Lester sees a future in which something like an AIBO will develop into a prosthetic device, extending human reach and vision. It will allow people to interact with real physical space in new ways. We will see “through its eyes”, says Lester, and interact “through its body… There could be some parts of it that are part of you, the blending of the tools and the body in  a permanent physical way.” This is how Brooks talks about the merging of flesh and machine. There will be no robotic “them” and human “us”. We will either merge with robotic creatures or will become so close to them that we will integrate their powers into our sense of self. A robot will still be other, but the one that completes you (extension of us, meaning that we are not powerful today and have limits, but not in the future).  We will know love which is reflection of our love.

When the brain in your phone marries the body of your robot, document preparation meets therapeutic massage. Here is a happy fantasy of security, intellectual companionship, and nurturing connection.

Tools will be an extension of us and more – love, power, together we will never be alone. We will begin to embed them in our rooms. They will collaborate with us. They will have a sense of humor. They will sense our needs and offer comfort. Our rooms will be our friends and companions.

Robots will not be incompetent, they are introduced to make up for human flaws like laziness; safe, they will be specialized and personalized.

The Japanese believe in a future, in which robots will babysit and do housework and women will be freed up to having more babies, also restoring sociability to a population increasingly isolated through the networked life.

The Japanese take as given that cell phones, texting, instant messaging, email, and online gaming have created social isolation. They see people turning away from family to focus attention on their screens. People do not meet face to face, they do not join organizations. In Japan, robots are presented as facilitators of the human contact that the network has taken away. Technology has corrupted us, robots will heal our wounds. Robots, the Japanese hope, will pull us back toward the physical real and thus each other.

Robotic companions can become mentors. My real baby was marketed as a robot that could teach your child socialization. Sherry is skeptical as believes that sociable technology will always disappoint because it promises what it cannot deliver. It promises friendship but can only deliver performances. As if we will be manufacturing friends that will never be friends.

Roboticists argue that there is no harm in people engaging in conversations with robots, the conversations may be interesting, fun, educational or comforting.  But Sherry finds no comfort here. She feels in a shadow of an experiment, in which humans are the subjects.

Another example of a sociable robot is a diet coach; the user provides some baseline information and the robot charts out what it will take to lose weight. With daily information about food and exercise, the robot offers encouragement if people slip up and suggestions for how to better stay on track. Things happen that elude measurement. You begin with an idea about curing difficulties with dieting. But then the robot and person go to a place where the robot is imagined as a cure of souls.

When we make job rote, we are more open to having machines to do it. But even when people do it, they and the people they serve feel like machines. People are always performing for other people. Now the robots too will perform. The world will be richer for having a new cast of performers and a new set of possible performances.

Finally Sherry says, if robots are designed to complement humans and not replace them, then I’m all for it!

Re-posted from The Ultimate Answer Blog

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