Kate Darling, robotics expert: “We shouldn’t laugh at people who fall in love with a machine. It will happen to all of us” | Technology


Kate Darling researches the legal, social, and ethical implications of robotics at the MIT Media Lab (Rhode Island, USA, 1982). He has spent years observing how humans and robots interact. He has many in his house. With the advent of the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution, he answered about the future with equivocations: “It’s all speculative,” he says, “hard to decipher.” However, there is no better time for it to work, since we have not been close to living with robots: “It is an exciting moment, I feel very fortunate to be able to live it.”

Darling (41-year-old American) is the author of the book new breed (“The New Breed”, still untranslated into Spanish) where he asserted that the best comparison to understand what a robot is is with animals, not with humans. In mid-June, she will visit Barcelona to participate in the activities of the Sonar + D Festival, at the invitation of Chancellor Sidor. In this conversation with EL PAÍS, which he conducted through a video call from his home, he tries to explain the massive novelty that ChatGPT-headed language paradigms represent.

Ask. How has the success of ChatGPT changed the way you see the future of bots?

Answer. It’s a big change. Many people did not expect this. If you had asked me a few years ago if we had this kind of development, I would have said no, never. This game is changing in many ways. What will happen now? no one knows. For me, one of the big questions is: Will the capabilities we’re seeing in generative AI translate into the ability to control and program physical robots? This kind of intelligence and learning would be really amazing. I’m not sure what will happen.

s. There is no definition of a robot. Why is it so difficult?

R was found. There is no universal definition. Depending on the scope, they will give one definition or another. Throughout history something new has been called a robot, a new technology that people don’t understand, that has something magical about it. Then once it becomes more common, people stop calling it a robot and start calling it a dishwasher or a vending machine.

s. There is a lot of debate now about the possible extinction caused by an artificial intelligence capable of making the decision for itself.

R was found. I am a very practical person and I don’t know how something like this could develop. There is not much we can do to predict if it will happen and there is nothing that can protect us other than stopping AI research, which it will not. I am more interested in whether people will believe that AI is conscious, regardless of whether or not it actually is. This is something we must face as a society.

The new technology that people don’t understand is called robot. Then they began to call it a dishwasher or a vending machine.

s. To understand what a robot is, he says it is best to compare it to an animal rather than a human being. Do you keep this idea after ChatGPT?

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R was found. Yes, I know it’s hard to compare AI using human language now. But the reason is more important, which is to say that creating something we already have, that we can already do, is not valuable or useful. It is better to have machines that can complement us or be partners in what we are trying to achieve. Many of the tasks that generative AI will now be done by humans, but I believe the true potential of the technology is to be a tool that blends with other human capabilities rather than just a substitute.

s. Soon see robots as members of our family. How will they be?

R was found. In a lot of human-robot interaction research, people already treat robots as living beings, even though they know they are just machines. But people love to do it. People even embody robots and project ourselves into them, endowing them with crazy human qualities and emotions. People also understand that they are not interacting with one person, but with something else. Robots will be a new kind of social relationship: they can be like a pet or they can be something completely different, which is why my book is called A New Breed. But I don’t think it necessarily replaces human relationships. It would be something different, but it will definitely happen.

The true potential of technology is that it is a tool to be combined with other human capabilities and not just a substitute.

s. He has bots at home. as they are? what are you doing?

R was found. I have two different types. We have a baby seal, a dinosaur robot, a robot dog, and then we have other robots that help more around the house, like a helper or a vacuum cleaner. They all do different things and my kids interact with them differently depending on whether they see them as a tool or a partner.

s. Can companion bots be turned off or are they always on?

R was found. We turn them off. Although some are designed to be always on. A dog, for example, when the battery is low, looks for its charging spot and lies down as if to sleep to charge itself.

s. Are these pet robots ready to enter millions of homes?

R was found. We’ve already seen, with this primitive and very expensive technology, that people who have it develop beneficial bonds. Technology will not go wrong. The barrier to home robots is not so much the robot’s complexity, but rather that people don’t yet know the social value that owning one might provide them. Once they get enough positive effects from the home robot that many homes will have, there will be a tipping point and more people will want it.

It is an application launched by a company, what is its business model? What are they trying to do?

s. What do you mean by “positive effects”?

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R was found. People are used to not seeing the value of owning a pet. The animal had to perform a function: the dog takes care of the house and the cat catches mice, but then people realized that the relationship with the pet and the emotional connection is the real value. Now they have pets for this reason. The same thing will happen with robots. Now they have a job: assistants, floor sweepers. But once there are enough bots for people to interact with, they will see value in social contact and want it for that reason as well.

s. He said that the movie Ha, About a human being who falls in love with a machine, and is interested and excited in equal measure. What ethical issues do you see?

R was found. Ha It is about an app launched by a company. Many questions: What is the company’s business model? What are they trying to do? Perhaps they are trying to maximize their profits. They are people who are very vulnerable because they already have a very strong emotional connection with an app, device, or bot. This is what is really happening. Replika app, which already has millions of users, is emotionally attached to it. I’m also concerned that there are privacy and data collection issues. You can emotionally manipulate people into buying products and services or changing their behavior, not for your own benefit, but for the benefit of a company.

Still from the movie Her, with Joaquin Phoenix.
Still from the movie Her, with Joaquin Phoenix.

s. He has said he can imagine a sexual app could exploit a user’s vulnerability in peak heat.

R was found. Yes.

s. not bad marketing?

R was found. It’s still more accurate. But Replika has in-app purchases that people buy, and then it’s easy to manipulate, spend, or display ads. These are consumer protection issues because they are somewhat disguised but in an overly manipulative way.

s. Will there be a reasonable way to monetize these apps?

R was found. Yes, when consumers realize the value of buying an artificial partner and pay enough money for it. They can sell it and that’s it. Think this will happen? No, but it would be the best way to protect privacy and not have to emotionally manipulate anyone.

s. Many people would be surprised if someone humanized these machines. But we are programmed for that.

R was found. Yes, and it will not disappear. If something moves around us it is because it is alive. This is the way our brains think and there is this unconscious projection that happens not only with moving objects, but with Chat bot Or whatever imitates human behavior, the things we recognize as signals and sounds and scientific evidence shows that we do so from an early age. It is very well established and will continue to be.

[Lo que más me preocupa es] Corporations, incentive structure and political and economic problems. It is a matter of governance, not technology

s. Robots will die. We could be shooting or abandoning a bot in a hole because of an update Programming?

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R was found. Probably yes. Relationships can end anyway, and we will have real relationships with robots, whether it be human relationships, human relationships with pets, or new relationships. As such, they may end up in different ways, whether by dying or when someone decides they no longer wish to continue. All kinds of things will happen. This is easy to predict because people develop emotional relationships with artificial entities. But there are still many people who don’t understand it.

s. Don’t they understand that they can sneak through a machine?

R was found. Yes, there are indeed stories of people who fell in love with them Chat bot. Most people think they don’t. That those who fall in love are sad and lonely, but they are not. We are all prone to bonding with machines, especially when they are somewhat more interesting and more accessible. We need to take this more seriously than laugh at someone falling in love with a robot because it will happen to all of us.

s. Isn’t it surprising that the machine we love is just a screen?

R was found. Not much. even with Chat bot More primitive people opened up. At MIT they created Eliza in the 70’s and people told her their stuff. We’re suckers for everything that gives us signals that we recognize, even if it’s just a screen. The reason I like physical robots is that they add that visceral layer that makes them more engaging.

s. But he doesn’t like humanoid robots.

R was found. No, it’s boring.

s. He prefers R2-D2, “trash can on wheels”.

R was found. I love robots that are designed to be cute and relatable to people, but they don’t have to look human. It’s interesting to create a model and sometimes it works better because if it looks not very human, the expectations about how it should act and what it should do are disappointing. Whereas with something that looks like moving garbage, you can’t have the same expectations.

s. Are you more excited or concerned about these developments?

R was found. both of them.

s. What worries you the most?

R was found. Corporations, incentive structure, and political and economic problems. It is a matter of governance, not technology.

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