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The Turkle Test: Robots Mimicking and Comforting?...

kgould's picture

In this blessed age of the Internet and the constant alerts and updates that we can subscribe to--if we dare--I found a recent article/blog entry on Discover Magazine's website concerning Sherry Turkle (in our reading this week) called "The Turkle Test" which researchers hope to use to build sympathetic "listening" robots that mimic human body language and provide comfort to those who just need someone there to talk to.

Of course, the robots would not actually be listening--which some think may be an issue--but act as more of a "living diary," a quiet listener, providing a sense of community. No response is okay because, writes Kyle Munkittrick, robots may provide a less-judging ear than that of a human. Sometimes just getting thoughts and emotions out is more important than what people think of them, especially if those people are going to judge you based on those words. 

“There are advantages to it not being a person—robots can be seen as not judgmental; people are not at risk of losing face to a robot,” [leader of Kismet project, Cynthia] Breazeal says. “People may be more honest and willing to disclose information to a robot that they might not want to tell their doctor for fear of sounding like a ‘bad’ patient. So robots working with other people can help the patient and the care staff.”

Munkittrick compares it to his grandfather's cat, Mickey, who appears to listen--but does not actually understand--what his grandfather is saying, but still provides comfort and community to the man.

As someone who has regularly talked to pet dogs and cats, I think this is a good idea. The concept of putting these robots into hospices and nursing homes could give disconnected, solitary residents the contented feeling of companionship--that their voice is being heard.

My question for you, the students and audience of GIST, is whether or not this would actually help or hurt the robots' companions, whether what they have to say needs to be heard by someone understands what they're saying...






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