Can robots be social companions? Anthropomorphism, Reciprocity, and Recognition in Human-Machine Interaction

When:8 Aug 2017, 12:30pm - 2pm
Venue:Red Centre 1040
Who:Associate Professor Massimiliano L. Cappuccio (UAE University)
Massimiliano L. Cappuccio

Philosophy Seminar


Social robotics research takes for granted that successful human-robot interaction requires robots sophisticated enough to match the human’s social characteristics and intelligence. More specifically, developers expect sociality to stem out of reciprocity relationship, which builds on the possibility of mutual recognition between human and machine, which in turn seems to depend on the disposition of the former to anthropomorphize the latter. The uninvestigated assumption in this inference is that the human disposition to anthropomorphize is causally dependent on and constrained by the behavioral, aesthetic, and cognitive features of the machines, which is why roboticists and developers aspire to create machines capable to do something (play the imitation game) or appear in a certain way (pass the Turing test) or reach a certain level of sophistication.

I will point out that, if these assumptions were correct, then social interaction between humans and robots would have never been possible, given the unsophisticated simplicity of today’s social robots, with their well-known cognitive and aesthetic limitations. The most successful examples of social robots, especially those designed for clinical applications and as social partners, build on a rather different psychological mechanism: the robots’ capability to solicit and fulfill the human expectations to encounter a social partner. Understanding these expectations requires realistic awareness of how the relationship between human and robot is not comparable to any standard social interaction between sentient beings. Rather, like art, literature, and other material forms of cultural expression, robot-creation essentially amounts to a form of self-stimulation conducted by the human through artificial extensions specifically designed to solicit pro-social expectations and immediate reactions. In this particular perspective, the activity of AI designers and robot makers allows us to interrogate the key philosophical notions of recognition and reciprocity.

About Massimiliano L. Cappuccio

Massimiliano L. Cappuccio is associate professor of philosophical psychology at UAE University, where he directs the Interdisciplinary Cognitive Science Lab. His work addresses theoretical issues in embodied cognition and social cognition combining analytic, phenomenological, and empirical perspectives. He is the principal investigator of two UAEU/NRF-sponsored research projects that focus on performance under pressure and human-robot interaction, respectively. With Mohamad Eid and Friederike Eyssel he organizes and chairs the yearly Joint UAE Symposium on Social Robotics (JSSR). He is currently editing the MIT Press Handbook of Embodied Cognition and Sport Psychology.

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