An expert in the emerging field of “Robot Ethics,” Kate Darling has a pretty fascinating day job. A Research Specialist at the MIT Media Lab and a Fellow at the Harvard Berkman Klein Center, her work explores the near-term effects of robotic technology, with a particular interest in law, social and ethical issues. She runs experiments, holds workshops, writes and speaks about some of the more interesting developments in the world of human-robot interaction, and where we might find ourselves in the future. (Also, fun fact: she met her husband on Twitter.)
For those unfamiliar with the field of Robot Ethics (i.e. most everyone), can you explain a bit about what you do?
I research, write and think about the near-term social, ethical and legal effects of integrating robotic technology into our lives. I’m also the intellectual property advisor to the MIT Media Lab. Robot Ethics is a field of study focused on ethical questions around the use of robots, for example whether some uses of robots are problematic or beneficial.
What kind of experiments do you conduct?
Honestly, for me the most interesting experiments have been the failures (as in, poorly designed studies that had to be scrapped), because I’ve learned so much about methodology from making stupid mistakes. But other than that: Palash Nandy and I did a study where we made people smash robots and looked at both the effect of giving the robot a name/backstory and also the relationship between the participants’ general tendencies for empathy and how long they hesitated to hit the robot. (Spoiler: empathic people hesitated more.)
What are the best robots on the market right now?
Do you own any yourself?
I have quite a few. My three Pleos are named Yochai, Peter, and Mr. Spaghetti. I would never choose a favorite. (Ok, it’s Yochai.)