As a little child I once got a ride to school from a neighbor who had a Subaru 4×4 that could go where school buses were failing (another time our bus was rescued from a ditch by a Korean-war 6×6 but that’s a story for another day).
Her tiny white car slowly crawled in low range over big prairie snow drifts and up the icy dirt hills. She softly patted the dash with her heavily bundled hand and yelled “COME ON BESSIE” above the roar of a little EA82 boxer engine that could.
It has been so many years, I wonder did she put her Bessie down and was it cruel when she did it? That’s the kind of question being asked by MIT in a new article asking if pressing an “off” button is equivalent to a machine murder. Maybe that’s the wrong question entirely, since they can be turned on again? Are you god if you can switch a robot on?
Here’s a particularly funny part where a “roboticist” notices that humans in high-risk/controlled environments like to name things and minimize changes.
Julie Carpenter, a roboticist in San Francisco has written about bomb disposal soldiers who form strong attachments to their robots, naming them and even sleeping curled up next to them in their Humvees. “I know soldiers have written to military robot manufacturers requesting they fix and return the same robot because it’s part of their team,” she says.
Should we accept this as some kind of exception as opposed to a norm? Who doesn’t name things or keep them close, even ones we don’t mind turning off?
Here’s a thought. Sleeping with a machine preserves integrity and reduces cost of trust. Returning the same one helps maintain integrity too, as every machine tends to have particulars.
I’d challenge this roboticist to put such behavior in historic context of soldiers and their machines for the past 100 years. And despite my “Bessie” experience, I’d say we trend more towards machines as extensions of our bodies, and not really companion-like.
Recently I wrote about the Aboriginal soldiers who defeated Ottoman forces in 1917, and how they were ordered to shoot their healthy horses after victory.
In fact the old Japanese theory suggests we are less likely to anthropomorphize robots that appear the most human-like. We might be most comfortable turning them off due to what they called the “uncanny valley“.
Attachment seems to come more from extension of our functional needs, which makes sense especially for bomb disposal risks, and helps explain the reasoning behind shooting victorious horses after battle has ended.
Of all the times I held my named laptop (because of course it has a name) in my arms, even sleeping next to it, nobody ever wrote about this as some kind of attachment. And I’d say they probably didn’t need to.
In fact I’d guess the percentage of security pros who keep their systems close and avoid rotations is near 100% but why call that a study subject?