Robots could be our partners

Posted by on 28 avril 2021

AI ethicist Kate Darling: ‘Robots can be our partners’

Interview Sat 17 Apr 2021 16.00 BST

Dr Kate Darling cuddling baby robot dinosaur
Dr Kate Darling says her baby robot dinosaurs mimic pain and distress very well. 

The MIT researcher says that for humans to flourish we must move beyond thinking of robots as potential future competitors

Dr Kate Darling is a research specialist in human-robot interaction, robot ethics and intellectual property theory and policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. In her new book, The New Breed, she argues that we would be better prepared for the future if we started thinking about robots and artificial intelligence (AI) like animals.

Photograph: Gian Paul Lozza

What is wrong with the way we think about robots?
So often we subconsciously compare robots to humans and AI to human intelligence. The comparison limits our imagination. Focused on trying to recreate ourselves, we’re not thinking creatively about how to use robots to help humans flourish.

Why is an animal analogy better?
We have domesticated animals because they are useful to us – oxen to plough our fields, pigeon delivery systems. Animals and robots aren’t the same, but the analogy moves us away from the persistent robot-human one. It opens our mind to other possibilities – that robots can be our partners – and lets us see some of the choices we have in shaping how we use the technology.

But companies are trying to develop robots to take humans out of the equation – driverless robot cars, package delivery by drone. Doesn’t an animal analogy conceal what, in fact, is a significant threat?
There is a threat to people’s jobs. But that threat is not the robots – it is company decisions that are driven by a broader economic and political system of corporate capitalism. The animal analogy helps illustrate that we have some options.


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