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EMPATHY AND THE ROBOT: A NEUROANTHROPOLOGICAL ANALYSIS

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Abstract

Roboticists developing socially interactive robots seek to design them in such a way that humans will readily anthropomorphize them. For this anthropomorphizing to occur, robots need to display emotion-like responses to elicit empathy from the person, so as to enable social interaction. This article focuses on roboticists’ efforts to create emotion-like responses in humanoid robots. In particular, I investigate the extent to which the cultural dimensions of emotion and empathy are factored into these endeavors. Recent research suggests that mirror neurons or other brain structures may have a role to play in empathy and imitation. Notwithstanding this, the effect of sociocultural experience in shaping appropriate empathic responses and expectations is also crucial. More broadly, this article highlights how we are literally anthropomorphizing technology, even as the complexity of technology and the role it plays in our lives grows. Both the actual design process and the understanding of how technology shapes our daily lives are core applied dimensions of this work, from carrying out the research to capturing the critical implications of these technological innovations.

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