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We Love Robots! (no really, we LOVE robots) June 17, 2009

Posted by emiliekopp in robot fun.
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With robots disguised as cute baby seals and “huggable” teddy bears, this was bound to happen. Stumbling upon these adorable pictures the other day reminded me of an interesting article I read on msnbc.com a few months back.

Whether intentionally designed to do so (again, did I mention the ridiculously cute robots pictured above? I WANT ONE!), robots are inspiring human emotional attachment. A study, conducted at Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, reported some interesting behaviors from Roomba owners.

Some of the owners simply started by naming their Roomba.
Ok. I’ve named my car before too. Nothing to be concerned about.

But then some mentioned traveling with their Roombas.
Hmmm. A getaway trip to Tahiti. How romantic. Perhaps they assumed the hotel room would need routine cleaning.

And then others dressed up their Roombas in costumes.
A sexy maid costume perhaps? Uh oh. (Seriously, there’s a website that sells costumes for your Roomba; there’s even a costume called “La French Maid”)

So then can we really be surprised when one guy introduced his robot to his parents?

“Mom, Dad, I’d like to introduce you to the love of my life, Rudy… my Roomba robot.”

I’m not really quite sure how to grasp the consequences of loving your robot yet. For the Roomba owners, they permitted more human-like behaviors. For instance, they accepted manufacturing failures as simple imperfections; if the Roomba still ran, there was no need to send it back to replace its motor. And they also started attempting to “please” the Roomba, by pre-cleaning floors and buying furniture that had adequate elevation for the Roomba to roam around underneath. This isn’t quite the “robot slave to clean human floors” scenario we were expecting.

Let’s flip this around. Here’s an instance where a robot programmed to love goes too far. A robot research lab in Japan created a humanoid robot, Kenji, capable of demonstrating love by hugging or embracing a human-sized doll. Sometimes, the embrace would last for hours and the when the doll was not present, the robot was make inquiries as to when the doll would return. But here’s what researchers didn’t expect:

“What they didn’t count on were the effects of several months of self-iteration within the complex machine-learning code which gave Kenji his initial tenderness. As of last week, Kenji’s love for the doll, and indeed anybody he sets his ‘eyes’ on, is so intense that Dr. Takahashi and his team now fear to show him to outsiders. The trouble all started when a young female intern began to spend several hours each day with Kenji, testing his systems and loading new software routines. When it came time to leave one evening, however, Kenji refused to let her out of his lab enclosure and used his bulky mechanical body to block her exit and hug her repeatedly. The intern was only able to escape after she had frantically phoned two senior staff members to come and temporarily de-activate Kenji.”

Oops. Sorry Kenji, she’s just not that into you.

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