People love robots more than animals and that needs to change, argues one expert

The robotics specialist Dr. Kate Darling argues that humans love robots more than animals and treat them with more care, but hopes this will change as machines increasingly find a place in the world

robot dog
We often have more compassion for robots than for living beings

A robotics expert has argued that humans have more empathy and love for robots than animals — and that includes vacuum cleaners.

The International Federation of Robotics expects to sell over 68 million robots for professional, personal and domestic services this year – in other words, robots are coming.

dr Kate Darling is a Research Specialist in Human-Robot Interaction at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab.

As part of the 2022 collection of essays of the RSPCAdid she answer the question: “Do we love robots more than we love animals?”

dr Darling said: “While it may seem absurd or even offensive to compare inanimate machines to living creatures, I think there is a lesson to be learned from the striking parallels in how Western society treats both.”

Western society treats machines as if they were living, breathing entities


Getty Images/Westend61)

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dr Darling begins to explain, “When an engineer at robotics company Boston Dynamics kicked a bio-inspired, four-legged robot in a video in 2015, so many people reacted negatively to the footage that it went viral.

“But we also see emotions in more primitive robots: Over 80 percent of Roomba robot vacuums have names.

“Some people even send it in for repairs and decline the offer of a brand new replacement and demand that ‘Meryl Sweep’ be returned.

“Soldiers have reportedly risked their lives to save the robots they work with. And Buddhist temples in Japan hold funerals for robotic pets when they are broken beyond repair.”

dr Darling says that “our tendency to project human-like traits, behaviors, and emotions onto animals, known as anthropomorphism, translates remarkably well to robots” — in fact, it’s incredibly difficult for us not to have empathy for them.

Household appliances are often given nicknames and are valued members of the family


Barbara Eddowes/Getty)

Previous studies have shown that humans treat anything that moves as if it were alive, including a remote-controlled TV stick.

On the other hand, we tend to treat animals as tools and products, fitting them into a variety of different and morally contradictory roles.

dr Darling said: “From protesting fur coats while eating burgers to saving whales once we found out they could sing, we have long mobilized to selectively protect other creatures, passed vivisection laws that only determine To provide shelter to mammals, and to forbid the eating of some but not others.

“In fact, we’ve ‘designed’ some of our pets to look and behave in a way that’s more appealing to us, while following some of the same principles we’ll use when designing robots.”

dr Darling notes that we may be at an important time when our burgeoning relationship with robots could actually help animal welfare.

dr Darling hopes for change as robots take on a more prominent role in society


(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

She said: “When humans prefer an insensitive mechanical device like a pet robotic dinosaur to a living, breathing, slimy snail – and they will – that juxtaposition makes it harder for any of us to ignore, as we are instinctively non-humans treat – whether they are alive or not.

“Until now, we have been able to perpetuate these contradictions between our beliefs and actions toward animals by not overthinking them and poorly justifying them.

“But research on human-robot interaction sheds a harsh and revealing light on our motivations and behavior.

“Faced with this information, I wonder, could we decide to stop treating animals and machines in a similar way?”

dr Darling believes one of the biggest lessons we can learn from embracing our feelings toward robots is that we should treat animals better.

She concluded, “My hope is that the political, moral and emotional choices we face with robots will indeed lead to a reckoning with our current (ab)treatment of animals.”

Most people would agree that “robots and animals aren’t – and shouldn’t be – treated equally” – and hopefully they won’t be in the future.

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Fry Electronics Team

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