What interacting with robots might tell us about human nature

Social scientists (and anxious parents) have wondered for years about the effect of violent video games on children and adults alike. Even as those questions remain unresolved, an increasing number of interactions with robots will create their own version of that debate. Could kicking a robot like Spot desensitize people, and make them more likely to kick their (real) dogs at home? Or, could the opportunity to visit violence on robots provide an outlet to divert dangerous behaviors? (Call it the Westworld hypothesis.)

An even more pungent version of that dilemma could revolve around child-size sex robots. Would such a thing provide a useful outlet for sex offenders, or would it simply make pedophilia seem more acceptable? Making the dilemma more challenging, it’s extremely difficult to research that question.