Robots and Love

Article excerpt

People are working on building robots for love. Not sex robots, which are another branch of future robotics, but love robots. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. But I find myself really taken aback.

Can you love a robot? Can a robot love you? Think about these questions for a moment, and come up with your answer. I have no trouble saying "no" to both of them. But, engineers at the National University of Singapore are saying "yes."

You can see their work at their Web site www.lovotics.com. "Lovotics introduces a new generation of robots, with the ability to love and be loved by humans." This is the brainchild of Hooman Samani, artificial intelligence researcher.

When I looked at an academic paper from Samani, called "Probability of Love between Robots and Humans," I saw that the goal was to design robots based on "identified factors of love." There were thirteen factors, such as propinquity, proximity, repeated exposure, similarity, desirability, reciprocal liking, etc. Each of these factors was used as a basis for a mathematical model, "to provide an interpretation of the intimacy between humans and robots."

What interests me here is the metaphorical approach of the robot builders. They are creating metaphors within the robots based on the thirteen factors that produce love. In fact, the thirteen factors are metaphors as well. Metaphors upon metaphors.

And what is at the core of these metaphorical systems? The human emotion(s) of love. Here is my problem with this entire system: love is ultimately mysterious.

So we start with a mysterious "thing" that our language gives a single name to: "love." Researchers try to describe this "thing" by giving questionnaires to people and observing behavior. They come up with thirteen "factors" that somehow go along with "love." These thirteen factors are our first metaphor, describing something ("love") in terms of something else ("factors"). …