Does a robot need to be cute?

During the last several decades, scientists and engineers have been devoting energy to what was considered the most important area of exploration in human-robot interaction, how to program computers and robots with compassion for humans so as to avoid inadvertent or conscious mishaps. Someone might have been reading a bit too much Isaac Asimov. However, the most important trend to track might actually be the amount of empathy we are developing for our technology contrasted with the erosion of empathy for our fellow humans. Empathy levels are down as our reliance on tech is up. Research out of the University of Toledo this summer decisively connects the dulling of areas in the brain responsible for empathy to repeated exposure to violent video games. It’s worth noting that Pew has found that 99% of America’s young boys and 94% of girls regularly spend time gaming.

Other new studies have been showing unexpected findings, like soldiers feeling protective of robots that go into dismantle weaponry, and homemakers with emotional attachments to their robotic vacuums. Of course, this might not sound surprising considering that there is a sizable population that has developed meaningful, long-term relationships with love dolls. The high-waist-panted future as depicted in Spike Jonze’s film, “Her,” might not be so far away, after all.

But what would have to happen before robots could become fully integrated into our society? In The New York Times this week, Kent Massey, the director of advanced programs at HDT Robotics, addressed this question by stating, “Robots must become more like people.”