Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Empathy towards machines: When communicating less is more

Recently I spoke with a professor regarding empathy and machines. Her mom had a close relationship with her 20-year-old washing machine. If the washing machine acted up, her mom would ask it -- do you need more water? Are there too many clothes? How about I take one piece out and we'll see if you'll start.

This is just what parents do when they interact with their baby. They constantly have to put their mind in the infants shoes. Are you hungry? Did you wet your diaper? Are you just tired? And they try things till it helps.

I think this kind of perspective-taking, active empathy connects us. And maybe this explains why we loved the mysterious R2-D2 so much. We had to put ourselves in its shoes to understand his beeps, his movements. And by doing this curiosity exercise, we cultivated empathy.

As another example, the Fish-Bird robots communicated with people only with simple printouts and movements. People interacted with it for ages. What do you think? Could less be more?

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