An unassuming Twitter account featuring a pretty young lady who appeared to be a motorcycle enthusiast garnered a number of fans in Japan. She was repeatedly seen posing in front of the bike, standing in front of the sea with her motorcycle or tinkering with it in her workshop.
Until someone discovered some inconsistencies. For example, one picture showed an arm with a little too much hair, and in a mirror visible in a photo, another curious detail. The mirror image looked quite different from the young lady. Not only was the person a lot older, but also a man.
In a TED Talk, robot ethicist Kate Darling of MIT describes how she demonstrated a small dinosaur robot to a friend. This little robot named Pleo had some sensors and motors built in, it could walk around and move its head, but it could also tell if it was standing upright or lying down. If he was lying down or hanging down, he would start crying. Darling’s friend examined the robot while holding it upside down, which caused the robot to cry. Darling felt so uncomfortable doing this that she took the robot back from her friend.
Her reaction to this, this pity for the dinosaur robot, which was ultimately nothing more than a toy, astonished her herself, and she asked herself why we form emotional connections with machines.
Darling’s reaction was not unusual; it happens to others. In P. W. Singer’s book ‘Wired for War‘, American soldiers speak of the ‘robo hospital’ rather than the ‘Joint Robotics Repair Facility’ where they send their drones and demining robots for repair. These same soldiers give their robots ‘funerals with full military honors.’ And last but not least, we already learned about the overturned Kiwibots that are immediately put back up by passers-by because they looked so ‘sad’. All this shows us that we humans are very quick to make such emotional connections. Everything that moves and looks like life can awaken our compassion.