Friday Fave: Empathy for Robots


It’s been an interesting week – are you curious to know why? This week I’ve been exploring topics that have no particular connection… until now! One stream is my fascination with robots and human-robot interactions; the other is the development of curiosity as a critical workplace requirement and essential for ongoing, or lifelong learning.

This week, I have 2 pieces that connect these topics and demonstrate both concepts in action. To start, watch this fascinating TED Talk from Kate Darling about our emotional connection to robots. She explores why people can’t hurt their toy robots (baby dinosaurs), why a US General had to withdraw his landmine detector robot when he couldn’t stand its legs being constantly blown off. And then she asks why? (Here comes the connection to curiosity). Kate outlines the current research and the need to understand why, when we know they’re not living beings, do we create an emotional connection with them? And what are the implications?

If robots help us to understand ourselves, our behaviour towards them and how we treat them becomes a reflection of our own humanity. While she’s transparent that we don’t have the answers just yet, we need to deeply understand (maintain the curiosity about) human-robot interactions.

Now – back to curiosity. In a recent Harvard Business Review article in the September-October issue of the magazine, Francesca Gino reviewed some current research into the role of curiosity and the importance and implications for enterprises. Common themes highlight that curiosity makes us think more deeply and rationally about decisions, resulting in fewer decision-making errors and more innovation. A key aspect of developing curiosity is empathy for others, understanding different perspectives, while the barriers that restrict curiosity appear in the tension between the desire for efficiency and the need for exploration of new ideas.

Connecting curiosity to human-robot interactions is going to require a focus on curiosity, the ability to deeply understand others and the mindset that allows you to uncover new ways of looking at human behaviour.



This post is part of a weekly Friday Faves series contributed by the team at Ripple Effect Group. Read the entire series and collections from other team members here.