Sherry Turkle writes:
Jibo the robot swivels around when it hears its name and tilts its touchscreen face upward, expectantly. “I am a robot, but I am not just a machine,” it says. “I have a heart. Well, not a real heart. But feelings. Well, not human feelings. You know what I mean.” Time magazine, which featured Jibo on the cover of its “25 Best Inventions of 2017 ” issue last month, hailed the robot as seeming “human in a way that his predecessors do not,” in a way that “could fundamentally reshape how we interact with machines.” Reviewers are accepting these robots as “he” or “she” rather than “it.”
But whereas adults may be able to catch themselves in such thoughts and remind themselves that sociable robots are, in fact, appliances, children tend to struggle with that distinction. They are especially susceptible to these robots’ pre-programmed bids for attachment.
So, before adding a sociable robot to the holiday gift list, parents may want to pause to consider what they would be inviting into their homes. These machines are seductive and offer the wrong payoff: the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship, the illusion of connection without the reciprocity of a mutual relationship. And interacting with these empathy machines may get in the way of children’s ability to develop a capacity for empathy themselves.