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Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology

Volume 23, Issue 3, 2019

Social Robots, Emotions, and Social Cognition

Felix Tun Han Lo
Pages 342-365

The Dilemma of Openness in Social Robots

This paper conducts a philosophical inquiry into past empirical research that reveals emotional coupling and category confusion between the human and the social robot. It examines whether emotional coupling and category confusion would increase or diminish the reification of human emotion and the human milieu by examining whether they fulfill the ideal of openness in technology. The important theories of openness, from the respective proposals of open industrial machines by Gérard-Joseph Christian and Karl Marx, to Umberto Eco’s critique of open art and Gilbert Simondon’s philosophy of open technology, are in agreement that (i) openness is the condition for realizing the potentiality for transcending the existing aesthetic, technical, or social structure, and (ii) that the realization of potentiality would diminish the reification of the human milieu. The therapeutic effect of emotional coupling with social robots seems to fulfill this ideal of open technology, whereas category confusion seems to increase rather than diminish reification. If people confuse the robot with the human, they risk losing sight of the unpredictability of other human beings that is essential to human development. This paper concludes that it is possible to avoid category confusion by building social robots without giving them a human-like appearance.

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