Working with Autonomous Human-Like Artifacts and the Anthropomorphic Tension


For over a century, science fiction has painted vivid pictures of what it would be like to live and work alongside animated human-like artifacts. Although many a tale ends with these artifacts taking over the world, depictions of collegial relationships between human beings and their artificial helpmates are equally familiar. Researchers are aware, however, that building working relationships with human-like machines is difficult and that people are oftentimes hostile towards anthropomorphic interfaces. These problems are often blamed on technological limitations that irritate people and disrupt the suspension of disbelief.

In this paper, I argue that an 'anthropomorphic tension' challenges the suspension of disbelief. When confronted with things, two powerful forces come into play: the tendency to anthropomorphize and a strong societal pressure, especially evident in the West, to banish the anthropomorphic for the sake of objectivity. Not only is this tension at odds with the suspension of disbelief but it also provides motivating grounds for abusing these artifacts. This presentation will discuss some ethical implications of this abuse as well as some of the unique characteristics of human-like artifacts.

[full paper]