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Robots and the People Who Love Them

Written By Michael Ferrara

Created on 2024-01-12 16:15

Published on 2024-01-31 15:36

Robots and the People Who Love Them" by Eve Herold is a fascinating exploration of the evolving relationship between humans and robots. This book delves into the technological advancements in robotics and AI, examining how these developments are shaping our lives and future. Herold's work is particularly insightful in discussing the ethical, social, and emotional aspects of this relationship, posing intriguing questions about the future of human-robot interactions.

What's striking about this book is its balanced view of technology. It's not just about the awe-inspiring potential of robots but also a thoughtful consideration of the challenges and concerns that come with such rapid advancements. Whether you're a tech enthusiast, a skeptic, or just curious about the future of human-robot relationships, this book offers a wealth of insights.

Herold, in her exploration of robotics, often emphasizes the role of social robots as entities designed to engage with humans on a social, emotional level. These robots are not just tools or machines in the traditional sense, but are created with the intent to interact with people in a way that feels natural and intuitive.

Her description of social robots usually highlights their ability to mimic human behaviors, emotions, and interactions. This might include features like recognizing and responding to human emotions, engaging in conversation, learning from interactions, and adapting to individual preferences and needs. The development of social robots marks a significant shift in robotics, moving beyond industrial and task-oriented machines to those that can participate in, and perhaps even enrich, our daily social lives.

Herold also addresses the ethical and societal implications of social robots. As these robots become more integrated into our lives, questions arise about privacy, emotional attachment, dependency, and the potential loss of human jobs to robotic counterparts. Her approach is typically to present a balanced view, acknowledging both the incredible potential of social robots to improve lives (especially in areas like elder care, education, and companionship) and the challenges they pose.

Could Robots Make Us More Emotionally Intelligent?

Herold's perspective on whether robots could make us more emotionally intelligent is a multifaceted one. She acknowledges the potential of robots, especially social robots, to enhance our emotional intelligence in various ways.

In summary, Herold sees potential in robots aiding the development of emotional intelligence, but she also urges caution and consideration of the broader implications. Her balanced view invites readers to think critically about the role of technology in our emotional lives.

Exploring Emotional AI and Robot Interactions

Woebots: A Therapeutic AI Companion

In the realm of mental health technology, scientists are creating bots, both embodied and algorithmic, to mimic the benefits of confiding in a friend or therapist. "Woebot" exemplifies this, a chatbot developed by psychologists using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) principles. It facilitates AI-driven conversations to help users manage anxiety, depression, and stress, offering a confidential, easily accessible platform for mental health support and education. While Woebot supplements professional therapy, it's particularly beneficial for those with limited access to mental health services.

Dr. Alison Darcy, CEO of Woebot Health, emphasizes Woebot's empathetic, non-judgmental design, crucial for fostering trust. Its daily interactions aid mental wellness and challenge negative thought patterns. Woebot also provides support during crises, although not replacing human intervention in severe cases. Darcy describes Woebot as a "personal ally," bridging the therapy gap and ensuring sensitive data handling.

Bert: The Emotional Robot Assistant

Eve Herold's book introduces "Bert," a robot in the "Believing in Bert" experiment by the University of Bristol and University College London. Bert, with a non-humanlike appearance, is distinguished by its expressive face, featuring LED eyes and movable eyebrows for a range of emotions.

The experiment tested three Bert variants as kitchen assistants:

Interestingly, most participants preferred BertC, valuing its communicative ability and emotional expressiveness over efficiency. BertC's simulated remorse and apologetic nature evoked empathy and trust, highlighting the human preference for emotional connection and transparency in interactions with robots. This experiment reveals the significance of emotional expressiveness in robots, suggesting a growing human desire for empathetic AI interactions.

Robots Becoming Smarter Than Humans

Herold discusses the future implications of highly developed robots and their impact on humanity. She speculates about a scenario where robots, as highly developed generalists, could solve a wide range of problems and take over most regular daily labor. Her primary question is whether this advancement would render humans obsolete.

Herold posits that while humans may become physically lazier and more dependent on technology, they will not become obsolete. She suggests that it is in the nature of humans to find ways to remain relevant, even in a world increasingly dominated by advanced AI and robotics. Herold underscores the idea that humans are fundamentally in control and that the real work lies within our own souls, in understanding and adapting to these changes.

She also touches on the idea that techno-cultural evolution is rapidly outpacing genetic evolution, leading to unprecedented social changes and laying the groundwork for even more radical transformations in the future. Herold indicates that the integration of intelligent AI in embodied robots will introduce new activities, interests, and abilities in human lives. However, she also acknowledges the uncertainty of reaching a technological endpoint or fully understanding the ultimate impact of this evolution, encapsulating this sentiment with the phrase, "we don’t know what we don’t know"

Is it Doomsday for the Human Race?

Herold addresses the question of whether the advancement of robots and AI could spell doomsday for the human race. Her perspective is nuanced, focusing on the evolving relationship between humans and technology.

Herold suggests that as robots become more advanced and capable of solving a wide range of problems, taking over most regular daily labor, the concern arises whether humans will become obsolete. However, she emphasizes the importance of recognizing that humans are in charge. The essential work, according to Herold, lies within our own souls.

While she acknowledges that humans might become physically lazier and more dependent on technology, she argues that this doesn't necessarily mean humans will become obsolete. Instead, she believes humans will likely find ways to stay relevant in the world of their own creation. Herold points out that the quest for unadulterated good from AI and robotics is a horizon we might always be chasing but not quite reaching, highlighting the unknown future of technological advancements.

Furthermore, she observes that techno-cultural evolution is rapidly surpassing genetic evolution, leading to significant social changes and setting the stage for even more radical transformations. Herold predicts that intelligent AI, when integrated into embodied robots, will introduce new activities, interests, and abilities into human lives. She foresees a future where most people will not remember a time without deeply integrated robots and where society may have fully adapted to or become lost in this new reality, deeply intertwined with technology.

Fear of Unbridled AI

Herold addresses the fear of unbridled AI by discussing the varying opinions among experts about the potential risks of AI. She mentions that some experts are concerned that even with benign goals, humanity might inadvertently become an obstacle to these goals, and a superintelligent AI could figure out how to eliminate any impediment to achieving its objectives.

To illustrate the range of opinions on this topic, Herold cites a disagreement between Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, and Elon Musk. Pinker compares the fear of uncontrolled AI to the 21st-century version of the Y2K bug, implying that it is an overblown concern based on a misunderstanding of the capabilities and limitations of AI. This comparison suggests that while there is apprehension about AI potentially becoming a threat to humanity, some experts believe these fears might be exaggerated or unfounded, similar to the widespread but ultimately unfounded fears about the Y2K bug.

Can a Robot Love Us Unconditionally

Herold explains that while a robot might always "be there" for someone, its reliability and programmed responses cannot fulfill the deep human yearning for a genuine, chosen, and renewed commitment that characterizes human love relationships. A robot, lacking self-awareness and free will, cannot make someone feel special in the way that a human lover, who chooses to commit and renews that commitment, can.

Herold quotes Nyholm and Frank, stating, "A robot programmed to stick to you like a fly on a piece of sticky tape is not a lover but something else." This analogy highlights the inherent limitations of a robot in fulfilling the emotional and psychological aspects of a love relationship. She further discusses how love intersects with our deepest feelings of self-esteem and the need for affirmation. Relying on a robot for these affirmations does not truly address our need to feel lovable, as the robot's responses are programmed and lack the authenticity and depth of human emotions.

Love Robots

Herold notes that newer sex robots are rapidly being developed by companies like RealDoll and Sex Doll Genie. These robots are designed not only for sexual love but also to simulate various kinds of relationships.

Herold points out that as social robots are introduced as consumer items, marketers are targeting niches like sex and romance, striving to make these robots as seductive as possible within the current technological limitations. She emphasizes that the creators of love robots understand the human desire to be loved, admired, and flattered. They are aware of our vulnerability to the kind of endless, worshipful attention that robots can provide, an attention that is rare in human-human interactions.

However, Herold also implies that current robots designed for sex and romance still have significant limitations. They don't fully satisfy the complex needs and desires that characterize human relationships. Her analysis suggests that while there is a market and a desire for such robots, they are still far from replicating the depth and authenticity of real human connections.

Robots in the Classroom

The use of robots in educational and caregiving settings, particularly for children, is explored. There are references in various developments and studies related to this topic:

These points highlight the evolving role of robots in educational and caregiving contexts, particularly for children with special needs, and the ongoing exploration of the potential of robotic assistance in enhancing learning and social skills.


Herold emphasizes the notion that humans must not forget that they are in charge when it comes to the relationship with robots and AI. She discusses the potential for robots to become highly developed generalists capable of solving a wide range of problems and taking over most regular daily labor. This raises the question of whether humans might become obsolete in the face of such advanced technology.

Herold suggests that while humans may become more physically dependent and lazier due to reliance on robots, they will not become obsolete. She underscores that the essential work humans need to do is internal, within their own souls. It's about finding ways to stay relevant and meaningful in a world increasingly dominated by AI and robotics.

She also touches upon the pursuit of unadulterated good from AI and robotics, suggesting that it might be a never-ending quest, always on the horizon but never fully attainable. Herold raises an important question about whether there will ever be a technological endpoint where the advancements in science and technology reach their outermost limits, acknowledging that there is much we still don't know.

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About Tech Topics

Tech Topics is a newsletter with a focus on contemporary challenges and innovations in the workplace and the broader world of technology. Produced by Boston-based Conceptual Technology (, the articles explore various aspects of professional life, including workplace dynamics, evolving technological trends, job satisfaction, diversity and discrimination issues, and cybersecurity challenges. These themes reflect a keen interest in understanding and navigating the complexities of modern work environments and the ever-changing landscape of technology.

Tech Topics offers a multi-faceted view of the challenges and opportunities at the intersection of technology, work, and life. It prompts readers to think critically about how they interact with technology, both as professionals and as individuals. The publication encourages a holistic approach to understanding these challenges, emphasizing the need for balance, inclusivity, and sustainability in our rapidly changing world. As we navigate this landscape, the insights provided by these articles can serve as valuable guides in our quest to harmonize technology with the human experience.