The University of Washington’s Julie Carpenter is one of a handful of researchers worldwide investigating human emotional attachment to robots. Her work looks at the attachment of U.S. military bomb disposal personnel to their explosive-sapping robots. So do troops view their robots merely as tools? Nope. According to Carpenter, “patterns in their responses indicated they sometimes interacted with the robots in ways similar to a human or pet.”
For her dissertation, Carpenter interviewed 23 Explosive Ordnance Personnel from the U.S. military–troops of the sort featured in The Hurt Locker. Her respondents, 22 men and one woman, came from all branches of the armed services. When interviewed, responses made it clear that military personnel sometimes gave the robots human-like attributes. Some explained how they could identify which robots were being operated by which colleagues because of their motions or operating style, and others assigned their robots gender or personality traits–and even showed empathy toward the bomb-sapping devices. This is concerning: Could an attachment to one’s bomb-defusing robot compromise battlefield outcomes?
Carpenter’s research builds on Peter Singer’s work on robots and the future of warfare. DARPA, the military’s high-tech think tank, is investing huge sums of money into building war-fighting robots. According to the University of Washington, Carpenter will expand her work into a larger book on human-robot relations.