Web version: Living with robots


“Social and Moral Relationships with Personified Robots”

Thursday, Nov. 1

Ruth Lilly Auditorium at IUPUI (Room 0130)

Lecture time: noon-1 p.m.


The Jetsons portrayed a future filled with innovative technology and interactive robots, like Rosie, the maid and family friend. At the time, personal relations with robots seemed far-fetched, but perhaps the creators were on to something.

At least Peter H. Kahn Jr. thinks so.

As the associate professor of psychology and adjunct associate professor in the Information School at the University of Washington, he knows society will turn to robotic technology in the near future, and it’s about time we start learning what that means.

“Personified robots will become part of our everyday social lives. How exactly they will is not yet known,” Kahn said in an e-mail interview. “As personified robots become more a part of our lives, they will pose us with significant challenges, socially and morally.”

On Nov. 1, Kahn will present his free lecture, “Social and Moral Relationships with Personified Robots,” at IUPUI to educate the public about the relationships that could form between humans and robots.

For many years, Kahn has been working to provide evidence for his ideas. In addition to teaching at Washington University, he is also the co-director of the Mina Institute, an organization in Covela, Calif., that is trying to encourage human relationships with nature and technology.

His book, The Human Relationship with Nature: Development in Culture, was published by MIT Press in 1999.

For the past four years, with funding from the National Science Foundation, Kahn has studied current technology, like Sony’s robotic dog, AIBO, to further understand its interaction with people.

During his lecture, he will cover findings from two of his lab’s three studies involving AIBO and talk about his more recent study using Robovie, the brain child of Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Kyoto, Japan.

Robovie is a humanoid robot, meaning its structure resembles that of the human body. At a price near $3,000, it can throw objects, do handstands and play soccer with other Robovies, according to Audiocubes.com.

His research has shown that “robots engage children in surprisingly rich social interactions,” but children have a hard time developing a moral relationship, according to Kahn.

However, this relationship between an adult and robot could be more complicated.

“Let’s imagine you have a personal robot assistant at home that speaks […] with a voice that sounds about your age, but of the opposite gender. Might he or she [the robot] somehow begin to encroach on the relationship you have with your spouse or partner?” he explained.

Kahn will also deliver some general proposals on how the military can use such robots for their own applications and research.

Through this lecture, he says he hopes to generate new ideas and discussions, in addition to making people “think about what kind of society we want to create.”

He believes humans have a lot to learn from robots and from the complicated relationship that may form. But there might be an invaluable lesson to be learned from the integration of robots into our society.

“We can also learn more about what it means to be human by studying what it means to be a robot,” Kahn said.

The lecture will begin at noon in the Ruth Lilly Auditorium at IUPUI. Check out http://informatics.iupui.edu/events for more information or other upcoming lectures.




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