Can robots be social companions?
Anthropomorphism, Reciprocity, and Recognition in Human-Machine Interaction

Massimiliano L. Cappuccio (PhD)
Associate Professor,
Cognitive Science Laboratory, director
UAE University
Emirate of Abu Dhabi

Social robotics research takes for granted that successful human-robot 
interaction requires robots sophisticated enough to match the human’s social 
characteristics and intelligence. More specifically, developers expect 
sociality to stem out of reciprocity relationship, which builds on the 
possibility of mutual recognition between human and machine, which in turn 
seems to depend on the disposition of the former to anthropomorphize the 
latter. The uninvestigated assumption in this inference is that the human 
disposition to anthropomorphize is causally dependent on and constrained by the 
behavioral, aesthetic, and cognitive features of the machines, which is why 
roboticists and developers aspire to create machines capable to do something 
(play the imitation game) or appear in a certain way (pass the Turing test) or 
reach a certain level of sophistication.

I will point out that, if these assumptions were correct, then social 
interaction between humans and robots would have never been possible, given the 
unsophisticated simplicity of today’s social robots, with their well-known 
cognitive and aesthetic limitations. The most successful examples of social 
robots, especially those designed for clinical applications and as social 
partners, build on a rather different psychological mechanism: the robots’ 
capability to solicit and fulfill the human expectations to encounter a social 
partner. Understanding these expectations requires realistic awareness of how 
the relationship between human and robot is not comparable to any standard 
social interaction between sentient beings. Rather, like art, literature, and 
other material forms of cultural expression, robot-creation essentially amounts 
to a form of self-stimulation conducted by the human through artificial 
extensions specifically designed to solicit pro-social expectations and 
immediate reactions. In this particular perspective, the activity of AI 
designers and robot makers allows us to interrogate the key philosophical 
notions of recognition and reciprocity.

Venue: UNSW Kensington Campus, Red Centre room 1040 (Central Wing)

Date & Time: Tuesday 8 August, 12:30-2:00.

Markos Valaris
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy
Associate Editor, Australasian Journal of Philosophy
University of New South Wales
Phone: +(61) 2 9385 2760 (office)
Personal webpage:<>

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