“Robovie, You'll Have to Go into the Closet Now”: Children's Social and Moral Relationships With a Humanoid Robot

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Abstract

Children will increasingly come of age with personified robots and potentially form social and even moral relationships with them. What will such relationships look like? To address this question, 90 children (9-, 12-, and 15-year-olds) initially interacted with a humanoid robot, Robovie, in 15-min sessions. Each session ended when an experimenter interrupted Robovie's turn at a game and, against Robovie's stated objections, put Robovie into a closet. Each child was then engaged in a 50-min structural–developmental interview. Results showed that during the interaction sessions, all of the children engaged in physical and verbal social behaviors with Robovie. The interview data showed that the majority of children believed that Robovie had mental states (e.g., was intelligent and had feelings) and was a social being (e.g., could be a friend, offer comfort, and be trusted with secrets). In terms of Robovie's moral standing, children believed that Robovie deserved fair treatment and should not be harmed psychologically but did not believe that Robovie was entitled to its own liberty (Robovie could be bought and sold) or civil rights (in terms of voting rights and deserving compensation for work performed). Developmentally, while more than half the 15-year-olds conceptualized Robovie as a mental, social, and partly moral other, they did so to a lesser degree than the 9- and 12-year-olds. Discussion focuses on how (a) children's social and moral relationships with future personified robots may well be substantial and meaningful and (b) personified robots of the future may emerge as a unique ontological category.

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