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Robot love: Human emotions, machine connections

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Robot love. Can humans fall in love with robots? And can robots fall in love with humans?

I love robots. I’m talking as a certified geek who grew up watching Japanese super robot cartoons. (We didn’t call them anime back then.) Voltes V is my favorite, followed closely by Mazinger Z.

Robots shall inherit the earth

The future of robots

While giant robots might take a while longer to become a reality, robots are becoming more mainstream. The robot revolution is happening, and, no, we’re not talking about Skynet.

Here’s how the future of robots might affect humanity, according to this Forbes article.

“As you might expect, support with housework and chores topped the perceived benefits of robots in the home, with 27% of people thinking a home robot could save them two hours each day, but companionship followed closely behind. Almost a fifth of people said they wanted a home robot simply to keep them company.

“While 13% said the arrival of a robot companion would mean they’d never feel lonely again, more than a third (38%) of people saw wider social benefits; more time to improve connections with friends and family, more time to pursue and master new interests, and more.”

It’s great to see people having positive feelings about the integration of robots into human society. It seems, however, that they are treating robots as high-tech servants.

Which I guess isn’t surprising, as we might think of robots as appliances, computers, toys, or gadgets. In fact, “robot” was originally derived from the Czech word “robota”—the forced labor of serfs. Karel Capcek introduced the word in his 1920 science fiction play R.U.R., though when the word became popular he explained that it was his brother Josef who coined it.

Yet as they grow more intelligent, autonomous, and human-like, shouldn’t we start seeing robots as equals? What rights should robots enjoy? And how are we to protect these rights, when it’s already hard to protect human rights?

Robot love and the rise of the digisexuals

Robot love and digisexuals

And, yes, will robot love, as in love between humans and robots, become accepted in human society? Personally, I feel this will be the case in the near future. Especially as artificial intelligence grows by leaps and bounds.

In fact, as this New York Times article shows us, some people are already identifying as digisexuals.

“Self-identification is not the same as identity, and some classes of description now may be closer to metaphor. But the idea that flesh-and-blood humans may actually forge fulfilling emotional, or even sexual, relationships with digital devices is no longer confined to dystopian science fiction movies like ‘Ex Machina’ and ‘Her,’ stories in which lonely techies fall too hard for software-driven femme fatales.

“In real life, pioneers of human-android romance now have a name, ‘digisexuals,’ which some academics and futurists have suggested constitutes an emergent sexual identity.”

As we confront the reality of robots becoming part of our everyday lives, it might be good to reexamine our views on robots—and our ideas of humanity.

East and West, humanity and machines

For instance, the Japanese don’t seem to have the same Western fear of robots. According to the writer, this might be due to a difference in the concept of “humanity”:

“The Western concept of ‘humanity’ is limited, and I think it’s time to seriously question whether we have the right to exploit the environment, animals, tools, or robots simply because we’re human and they are not.

“Sometime in the late 1980s, I participated in a meeting organized by the Honda Foundation in which a Japanese professor—I can’t remember his name—made the case that the Japanese had more success integrating robots into society because of their country’s indigenous Shinto religion, which remains the official national religion of Japan.

“Followers of Shinto, unlike Judeo-Christian monotheists and the Greeks before them, do not believe that humans are particularly ‘special.’ Instead, there are spirits in everything, rather like the Force in Star Wars. Nature doesn’t belong to us, we belong to Nature, and spirits live in everything, including rocks, tools, homes, and even empty spaces.”

Human, all too human

It might be true that cultural differences between East and West might influence our views on robots. Robot ethicist Kate Darling, however, noted that humans are generally hardwired to have an emotional connection with robots.

It’s clear that soon robots will become part of our daily lives, which will benefit us in many ways. From robot colleagues, to robots that teach autistic children social skills, to robot lovers, and so on. Machines will live side by side with us.

How we treat robots may actually show what kind of person we are. Will fear or jealousy prevent us from ever considering robots as equals? No matter how advanced and indistinguishable from humans they may become?

Perhaps in embracing robots, whether literally or figuratively, we will end up becoming more human.