By Vodafone

25 Jun 2019

If your therapist was a robot would you be more or less likely to trust it with your emotional wellbeing? And would you buy a microwave that could press your emotional buttons? Vodafone looks to the oncoming future of AI 


TV series like Maniac and films like Ex-Machina pervade our culture with possible future scenarios where technology has the ability to adapt and understand human emotion.

We’re still a long way from ‘the singularity’ – a hypothetical point in the future when robots and humans merge and become indistinguishable – but we are already relating to our technology as though it does have emotion, even when it doesn’t - how many times have you shouted at your computer for not saving a document or your SatNav for taking you the wrong way?
“At the core of our understanding of the world is that everything has intentionality and behaves like a human,” said Rob Wortham Teaching Fellow in Robotics and Autonomous Systems at Bath University, when asked why we have emotional connections to our technology.

A case in point is a recent study in peer-reviewed open-access journal Plos One which found that when a robot begs not to be switched off, participants are reluctant to do so.

'When a robot begs not to be switched off, participants are reluctant to do so' 

In the experiment, the robot would ask simple questions like “Do you prefer pizza or pasta?” which was enough to make the participants like the robot. They then experienced stress when they were given the option to turn off the robot at the end of the experiment as it begged to be left on with phrases like, “No! Please do not switch me off!”
“You will hear the term ‘anthropomorphism’,” said Dr Wortham, referring to the way we ascribe human characteristics to ideas, animals or objects. “It’s the way we understand our pets as though they are tiny, furry people and we shout at computers because they’re being mean to us.”   

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and groups like the US Navy’s Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR) is using our tendency to relate to technology in emotional ways to build robots that work better as part of a team.

LASR has developed a firefighting human-like robot called Octavia who is ‘Mobile, Dextrous and Social’ and is designed to make the crew relate to her as though she was another human teammate.

Octavia can respond to commands and physical gestures, speak and show confusion with her facial expressions.

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