Robots and Humans

Abstract for a talk at Robotix97 by Kerstin Dautenhahn


We know quite well what a human is like, as a rough estimation we can take ourselves as a good example. We do not know exactly what humans "are for", but we have an idea about what they can do, should do, normally are doing. Our picture of humans and their "function" is not consistent, and need not be. But the picture is colourful, and structured, it is full of stories. What is an artifact for, e.g. a robot? A) It can be a machine, working and solving tasks for us, an intelligent vacuum cleaner for example. If it has finished its work then we switch it off or it goes to its "nest". In any case, it should not bother us.
B) It can be a very complex, unpredictable, "intelligent" machine, solving complex tasks, surviving in sewerage pipes or on the Moon. They should "function", by whatever means and techniques it can be realised. Do we care about them? Well, they are somehow "life-like", but they are not like us, so why should we? We should be able to control them, they could become dangerous. They are not adapted to us. If they are really good, then they can be competitors for resources. Will they be able to entertain us, to please us, to tell us stories? I believe not. They are enacting the stories they have been told (by the human designer). Humans will be "better", maybe physically weaker, incredibly slow. But they keep the role of the story-teller. The human embodied mind is the only source of creativity.
C) Robots can be our "companions", our personal robots, helping us in daily life, interacting with us in an individual way, keep us comfortable, help us survive, entertain us. They are adapted to us, as an individual person, to our human society, to our human life. They can play these funny imitation games with us and make us laugh when they desperately try to flip-flap, but fail, their wheels block every time. They learn during their life-time, about themselves, about us. They are sitting with us in the garden, watching the crows playing in the air. We say how much we wish to be able to fly. The robot expresses: "I know what you mean".
They can listen. And create their own stories. Do we care about them? Do we care about our dog pets? Of course, they are a bit like us, somehow family members. They have a meaning to us, in our "world", the mental world created inside our mind, the only world we have access to. The only "real thing".
We don't care what species the robots belong to or what kind of material they are made of.
They are our friends.