In the latest version of the software, Cozmo must be fed, repaired, and played with, not unlike the Tamagotchis of yore. But unlike those simple gizmos, which merely beeped or flashed simple expressions on a tiny screen, Cozmo can use the full breadth of its animated repertoire to summon particular feelings in its owner, and to foster emotional bonds. The idea is to create “a deeper and deeper emotional connection,” Sofman said. “And if you neglect him, you feel the pain of that.”
When he told me this, I felt a flash of not-quite-anger. It seemed almost cruel to design a robot that could play on a young kid’s emotions. And I had never considered that, in the coming human–robot conflagration, robots might take over simply by expertly manipulating us into letting them win.