On Monday, Toyota Motor Corp revealed Kirobo Mini. He is a robot. A companion, and small enough to be put in a cupboard. In one word: he’s cute! But his true purpose is interesting, to say the least. With his big round eyes and high pitched voice, Kirobo want to wake the maternal instinct in you. Sound nice and very futuristic. But there’s that one question that everybody has in their minds. Are human beings capable of emotionally bonding with a robot? That is, in the real world, of course.
Science says they’re not
The short answer? No. At least this is what doctor are saying. Dr. Hoffman is a professor of engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. His specialization recommends him for this study: human-robot interaction. He thinks that even if robots try to imitate human behaviors as best as they are designed to do, humans will still not feel the same way as they would feel towards another human. All right, technology evolves and is now mimicking human emotions, but the human brain is not stupid either.
In a study conducted by him, dr. Hoffman asked some people to interact with two different robots. Then he asked them to record a video for a dating website. The results showed that those who interacted with a more human-like robot felt more confident. Those who spent time with a more machine-like robot did not show the same level of confidence. So, there is indeed something in our brains that pushes us towards another human or at least towards human-like traits.
A mechanical companion
But more evolved robots have bodies, arms, legs. They can use those in their advantage. They can come closer to you or keep their distance. Robots can touch you or look at you. This all triggers some interesting connections in the human brain. Body language is important and some robots are capable of doing this.
In another study, dr. Hoffman designed a robot who would show signs of vulnerability. For example, when you would raise your voice, the robot would become frightened. Even if the robot could not trigger the same exact feelings in a human, they would still make them more alert and conscious about their tonality.
Kirobo does almost all of those things. He is designed to be vulnerable and trigger maternal instincts in humans. Kirobo even wobbles when he walks and shows you that he is vulnerable. He just wants to be taken care of. Exactly like a baby.
A world of robots
The future is now and robots are becoming increasingly cheaper and more intelligent. As time passes, working robots will no longer be the only ones in our lives. Humans will have assistive robots (remember C3PO from Star Wars?), which will help cook, clean and take care of our children. PARO, which is a robot seal, is already being used in Japan as a therapeutic assistant for older people. But we should be careful. Just because robots can replace humans in some activities does not mean they should. After all, they are here to help, not to conquer. We should remember that.
Image source: here