An e-rosion of empathy?

What will the emerging fields of robotics and artificial intelligence do to our minds? Do you remember the appearance of Tamagotchi toys from Japan over a decade ago? These were the little electronic critters much beloved by small children in playgrounds the world over. Unfortunately these little darlings had a habit of ‘dying’ if they weren’t looked after properly and this caused genuine grief. So what will happen when non-biological objects (e.g. toys) start to blur the boundary further between the real and the unreal? What happens when synthetic pre-school toys start to realistically imitate many of the characteristics that were previously the sole domain of organic human beings?

For example, would it be appropriate for a child to form a stronger relationship with a phone than a parent? What happens when teens form stronger relationships with inanimate objects that are pretending to be living things? What happens to social skills when young adults spend more time alone with digital friends than with real people? Perhaps such activities will lead to a slow decline in the understanding of broad context? Or perhaps relationships using digital technology will reduce tolerance of others in the real world. Probably both.

In a sleepy town in Australia, for example, there was a recent case where a 15-year-old boy was killed at school after a lunchtime dispute turned into a vicious attack. At the time of writing the precise reason for the attack remained unclear although the boy’s mother did make a rather telling remark: “It’s like they feel less somehow. They’re so hooked on machines and gadgets and electronic games that it’s diminished their ability to interact with other people.”

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One Response to An e-rosion of empathy?

  1. Max Kaehn says:

    If we make devices act more like living beings, won’t that train people to act with greater consideration toward everything? I’ve always planned that if I ever work on voice-controlled software, I’m going to put in little delay points in the code that will be shortened if you regularly say “please” and “thank you” and other courtesies to the computer, and lengthened if you’re verbally abusive.

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