Dueling Robots In Boston Globe, New York Times

What are the odds that the Boston Globe and the New York Times would feature Page One robots on the same day?

Well, Monday was the day.

Times robot:

Globe robot:

Their functions, as you have no doubt already gathered, are quite different. The Times piece is about Bina48, described this way by reporter Amy Harmon after a robo-conversation:

Bina48 was designed to be a “friend robot,” as she later told me in one of her rare (but invariably thrilling) moments of coherence. Per the request of Martine Rothblatt, the self-made millionaire who paid $125,000 for her last March, her personality and appearance are based on those of Bina Rothblatt, Martine’s living, breathing spouse. (The couple married before Martine, who was born male, underwent a sex-change operation, and they have stayed together.)

Freaky, on so many levels.

The Globe piece, by contrast, features Nexi, “a moonfaced robot with expressive eyebrows, dexterous mechanical hands, and a face that can flick from boredom to happiness.”

But Nexi is no “friend robot” like Bina48.

By controlling how 4-foot-tall Nexi interacts with people, scientists have a new and powerful way to study the signals that allow people to trust one another, or not, within minutes of meeting.

Of course, that’s freaky in a different way.

On the flip side, trust can be used not only by people seeking to do good, but also by marketers and con men. If trust can be deconstructed, it could also be manipulated. That makes understanding trust’s origin even more important.

But the freakiest revelation of all is this passage from the Times piece, addressing “what appears to be a basic human reflex to treat objects that respond to their surroundings as alive, even when we know perfectly well that they are not.”

Teenagers wept over the deaths of their digital Tamagotchi pets in the late 1990s; some owners of Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners are known to dress them up and give them nicknames.

Really?

Time, once again, to fear for the Republic.

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