Stefan Ulrich, German designer, and inventor of the newest bizarre robot has alleged that his robot can simulate a strange creature “falling in love” with its owner. The robots are specially designed to hug and cling to their owners, though they don’t actually have arms. And these amorphous automatons are creating quite a bit of stir amongst some AI advocates who suggest once a robot has been invented that can fall in love, it has taken a significant step toward becoming more human.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately depending on who you ask, an understanding of the systems behind these robots suggests that perhaps the words “falling in love” may be a bit too ambitious to describe Ulrich’s invention. Still, the cuddle bots are designed to provide a PG rated level of affection with their owners by sensing their presence, their movements, and even the sensation of touch as they are petted. Though they may not be the latest strain of super robots designed to take over the world, many of those interested in the subject of artificial intelligence are vociferously declaring it dangerous to start using words such as “love” with so simple a robot as the advanced machine Ulrich has put forward.
Can a robot feel love? AI futurists say the answer is most certainly yes, but with a few asterisks. First, we would have to establish what love is within certain parameters and take into account various differences in the concept of love. By the end of the exercise, however, many have come to the conclusion that AI robots can feel love assuming love is something that can be defined. The simple fact of the matter is, within a reasonable equation such as the one proposed, many of us, although knowing when something is or is not love, still have yet to agree upon a strict set of parameters that can define love to the satisfaction of the scientific community.
Sensors buried just beneath the creature’s “skin” react to touch, color, and warmth indicating when someone around them is pleasant to be around. This alone creates a simulation of love that Ulrich is confident will go a long way toward synthesizing affection. In a recent interview with “The Sun,” Ulrich outlined his motivation for undertaking the project, “People already bury themselves in possessions and shield themselves from real life with technology. So if robots and objects can fulfill all their emotional needs as well, why do they need other humans?” The words, while seemingly innocent actually paint a strange picture on the state of human nature in the 21st century. In our effort to control all aspects of our lives while affording others infinite freedom, are we really willing to lose the affection of human contact in favor of a synthetic alternative? While this device alone is likely no danger to worldwide interpersonal relationships, it will be interesting to see how this device – and others like it – will catch on. Will the strange amorphous robots become a new type of “meta-pet?” Or will they simply be considered creepy in their attempt to subvert human contact? It seems likely technology from this object could be used in teddy bears and children’s dolls, but will likely not actually replace true human interaction. Still, given sufficient time, will we reach a point where we cannot tell the difference?