Who would kill a robot?

What makes a country’s armed forces reject robot missions as inhumane? Why do we feel compassion for vacuum cleaners, and how are robots designed to elicit these emotions? Answers were provided by MIT researcher Kate Darling in a Ted Talk and at the GDI Retail Summit on 9 and 10 September 2021.

Kate Darling

Robots are everywhere: they vacuum our living rooms, work on assembly lines in factories and deliver parcels. We have integrated them into our lives, but they are not yet truly human.

We treat robots like living beings

But that doesn't stop us from humanising them, as robot ethicist Kate Darling points out: “We are pretty far away from developing robots that can feel anything. But we feel for them, and that matters.” Instincts like these can have consequences. We are genetically “hard-wired” to project intention and life onto every independent movement in our environment, Darling says. That's why humans treat all kinds of robots like living beings. In one workshop Darling conducted, participants did not have the heart to smash little robot dinosaurs with a hammer. According to Darling, this kind of emotional attachment to robots can be anything from dangerous to useful.

A cultivated approach to robots

A cultivated approach to robots is needed, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab researcher argues: “Throughout history, we've treated some animals like tools or products, whereas we've treated others with kindness and given them a place in society as our companions. I think it's plausible that we might start to integrate robots in similar ways.” Find out more in her Ted Talk:

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