A typical weekday evening finds me flannel-clad and pony-tailed ready for knitting and tea by about 9:03pm. My grannyesque ritual includes this little one here – my ultra hype robot tea infuser (NB: robots are an excellent object of study just for the sheer paraphernalia factor). I always feel bad throwing it in the bottom of a tea pot and dumping scalding water on it. Just lookit its face! It’s little line mouth and little circle eyes! Now, I know that I’ve got a likely unhealthy penchant for anthropomorphism and have got some trouble keeping the empathy under control, but still . . . it made me think a bit about my motives for studying robots. Maybe it’s because I know that I couldn’t resist them. Or be mean to them. Or to hack them apart if they rised up against us. Maybe it’s because I’d totally be the weakest link and I’d be the first one to help out an evil robot and accidentally cause the end of humankind. Whoops.
One of the giants in artificial intelligence research, American computer scientist John McCarthy, also struggled with humankind’s propensity for projecting our attributes and values onto the material world. He wrote an ultra-creepy short story called “The Robot and the Baby.” It’s certainly an interesting foray into what the intersection of algorithm and value might look like, though I really, really hope my tea infuser is the only robot that I’ll have to fret about for quite some time.