Are We Becoming Too Attached To -- Robots?

Is this for real?  A new study says the human race is in danger of becoming too attached to -- robots?  But it's true.

Robots are being used for everything these days, from delivering trays to hospital rooms, to performing hysterectomies, to vacuuming rooms, to deactivating deadly explosive devices at war.

"It's becoming more common to have robots sub in for humans to do dirty or sometimes dangerous work. But researchers are finding that in some cases, people have started to treat robots like pets, friends, or even as an extension of themselves," reports.

It almost sounds a little too far-fetched to be believed but some wonder "if a soldier attaches human or animal-like characteristics to a field robot, can it affect how they use the robot? What if they 'care' too much about the robot to send it into a dangerous situation?"

A researcher at the University of Washington interviewed highly trained soldiers who use robots to disarm explosives about how they feel about the robots they work with every day. Part of her research "involved determining if the relationship these soldiers have with field robots could affect their decision-making ability and, therefore, mission outcomes. In short, even though the robot isn't human, how would a soldier feel if their robot got damaged or blown up?"

What she found was that troops' relationships with robots continue to evolve.  While soldiers told her that attachment to their robots didn't affect their performance, they admitted "they felt a range of emotions such as frustration, anger and even sadness when their field robot was destroyed."

Soldiers in every branch of the military rely on robots to detect, inspect and sometimes disarm explosives, and to do advance scouting and reconnaissance. The robots are thought of as important tools to lessen the risk to human lives.

While the personnel in Carpenter's study all defined a robot as a mechanical tool, they also often anthropomorphized them, assigning robots human or animal-like attributes, including gender, and displayed a kind of empathy toward the machines.

"They were very clear it was a tool, but at the same time, patterns in their responses indicated they sometimes interacted with the robots in ways similar to a human or pet," Julie Carpenter, who just received her UW doctorate in education, and did the study, told

"They would say they were angry when a robot became disabled because it is an important tool, but then they would add 'poor little guy,' or they'd say they had a funeral for it," quoted Carpenter.


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