"Introduction" from Alone Together - Sherry Turkle

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Before I begin, I think that this is relevant.

When reading Sherry Turkle describe the elderly woman with Pero the therapy robot, my mind wandered a bit. I imagined her forcing the old woman to watch while she submerged Pero in a tank of water, shorting its circuitry and simulating drowning it, while screaming at the old woman that she was to live out the reminder of her life in misery and die feeling hopelessly alone, just like nature intended. Then she probably stole her social security check.

My point is that Turkle is being awfully judgmental about behaviors that hardly affect her. We read 20 pages of her describing people with different priorities as her as being wrong. She cast a few of her statements as moral arguments, even. Frankly, I agree with the Scientific American reporters assessment of her attitude. Nobody is telling her that she has to marry, or hang out with, or even be in the same room as a robot. I'm uncomfortable with her negative evaluation of others who want to do any of the aforesaid things.

Turkle is an MIT professor and an expert in robotics (in society), so it's kind of messed up that I'd argue against her points on the nature of robots, but I'm still going to: I submit that humans are, themselves, just robots. Super complex robots, sure, but still just robots. I'm about a fifth of the way into The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku, and I've learned so far that the consensus by neuroscientists is that memories are actually physical data and that humans run on electrical signals. Aside from the complexity of the systems at play, then, humans aren't any different from ASIMO.

Turkle argues that robots are “other” because they don't have the capacity to feel. What are emotions, anyway? They're our responses to external stimuli... not completely unlike a roomba's response to physical obstacles while vacuuming my gross apartment. As robotic technology becomes more complex and intricate—and I understand that it has to become waaaaay more complex and intricate than it is now—I don't see any reason why a robot's internal response to me abusing it can't be just as strong as a human's when subjected to the same abuse.

On a semi-related note, have you ever tried having a serious conversation with CleverBot? Things can get surreal in a hurry.

-Andrew

The Turkle reading was pretty dense -- one thing I wish she did in the introduction (if she does not do so in another early chapter of her book), though, is more clearly define what a robot is. Even though the word "robot" comes from the Czech word for "drudgery or labor" and was coined by Karl Capek's R.U.R., it is still a subjective definition, especially when compared to the word "cyborg." I would argue that certain devices like cell phones have become an increasingly inseparable extension of ourselves, making us cyborgs. But then where does that place desiring devices that reciprocate intimacy, like sociable robots? Turkle brings up two examples of these -- companion and spouse robots. Miriam's robot seal provides comfort, but Turkle insists that Miriam is still engaging in a one-way transaction of emotional support. What does (hypothetically) marrying oneself to a robot symbolize, then? Are we too scared to face the imperfections of ourselves and others? David Levy "argues that robots will teach us to be better friends and lovers because we will be able to practice on them" (5). We can project meaning onto inanimate objects, yet robots seem to mask this by "meeting our gaze, speaking to us, and learning to recognize us" (2). I think a lifetime committed to contrived intimacy will alienate us further rather than make us better at social interactions, even if the robot is tailored to providing for our every need and is not locking us away in online social networks.

After processing some of these points Turkle makes, I'd conclude that she defines robots as artificially intelligent beings capable of social interactions, but incapable of relating to human experiences such as love and death. I am in agreement with this. As for us, I'd say we are rapidly becoming cyborgs. I'm alarmed at how attached people are becoming to their smartphones. That is not to say that I am not guilty of using my non-smartphone as a prop. I have, on more than one occasion, pulled it out to text or read texts -- the only functions my phone is capable of, other than calling -- in order to avoid undesirable group interactions or confrontations. I don't undermine the power of face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact, though. I think a measure of how close we are to people is to see how shocked someone would be if we opted to call instead of text them.Texting and emailing is useful to have a paper trail, but calling and/or meeting face-to-face carries more gravity and intimacy. I was alarmed to read the story about Nora's engagement. When I can, I always send hand-written thank-you notes, from receiving gifts on my birthday to following up with job interviewers. If I lost my phone, I would sooner have an anxiety of missing out on a call from a boss or potential employer than losing contact with friends and family. I know generally where to find people I care about. Robots, cell phones, and other devices that facilitate connections don't facilitate intimacy -- they try to redefine intimacy and as a result, alienate us.

Margaux

One thing I found particularly interesting as I read this introductory chapter is how the real biological animals on display when Disneyworld’s Animal Kingdom were seen as less realistic as robotic and animatronic displays elsewhere. I think it’s a very telling comment on how far robots and the field of robotics have come as well as the impacts they have on us. We are able to create displays that appear so lifelike, so close to the real thing that reality becomes unrealistic by comparison. We expect an animal to be acting in accordance with what we may see in movies and other media, which an animatronic display can be programmed to do. A real animal, displaced from its natural habitat and existing without much space to move around in, would probably not move around much or exhibit such behaviors even if those behaviors weren’t fiction. Those who said that the real animals didn’t seem very real were, in a sense, right. An animal cooped up in a small living space that doesn’t mimic its natural habitat won’t exhibit natural behavior.

-Andrew

I feel that Sherry Turkle hit the nail on the head in regards to society's increasing reliance on technology. We have become so absorbed into technology that we have now resorted to changing our main mode of communication to ways that directly involve technology such as texting and webchatting. Both modes of communication may allow us to communicate from a distance but as Turkle pointed out, the user can multitask during communication which thwarts the conventional connections human being make during communication. Years ago, if an individual desired to speak with an acquaintance, they would have to walk a certain distance to communicate with that person. However, the walk would be worth it when the two people meet up to discuss how they are feeling and what they have been doing. Even further, the content of the conversation would be more "unfiltered" than the modern day texting approach since body language plays a key role when communication. Today, when communicating through texting, people are engaging in what is essentially a superficial conversation since they are able to choose their words wisely and edit their replies to create the "optimal" version of themselves.

One fact I found very interesting in the reading was within David Levy's writing of Love and Sex with Robots. I found it interesting to read that Levy believes that love with robots can be as normal as love with humans and capture the same feelings and intimacies. I feel that like communication through texting, these potential relationships with robots would be superficial. While a robot may be able to provide endless sexual experience, would not cheat, would not lie, and essentially be the "perfect companion," it would not capture the emotions of a normal human relationship. The idea of having a partner cheat or lie to you may hurt, but establishing that trust with another individual is part of the experience of a relationship. If robots are able to replace humans as intimate companions, I feel like the need to control and have the perfect partner has officially distorted the values that create a healthy and passionate relationship. Although a robot may be tailored to meet your certain desires, it will never have the ability to share a point of view from a human's perspective, which often entails the adversity one overcomes throughout all the hard times in life. Keeping tabs on one another through social media is one thing, but to completely give up on human beings and resort to a robot that will do exactly as one pleases is crossing the line in my opinion.
-Viktor

I’d say that I generally agree with Turkle’s sentiments toward people’s reliance on technology, though I don’t feel quite as strongly about it. As people spend more and more time staring at screens, and less and less time face-to-face with other people, it does worry me a little bit about how far it will go in the future. If computers get to the point where they are able to satisfy humans in a relationship, and that’s what people want, then I don’t have a problem with it. Personally, that thought creeps me out a little bit, but if other people are okay with it I’m not going to tell them it’s wrong. However, if it does get to that point, I would be concerned that people will become less capable of having healthy friendships and relationships with other people.

I actually watched the movie “Her” not too long ago, which is about a guy falling in love with his Operating System. I won't give away too much, but the OS is super smart, has natural conversations with him, and is pretty much its own "person”. The OS was basically a brain with limitless learning potential. I have my doubts that computers will ever feel that real, but if they do I’d be more worried that they could just take over!

-Justin

Oops, I placed this in Margo's MRI comments as well....but here is it:

The article "Alone Together" brought to mind several Sci-Fi movies involving robots living among humans interacting at a similar level. One in particular is the movie Her. Her is a movie about a lonely man who falls for an intelligent computer operating system (OS). The film entertains the idea of a relationship with an IA system. I believe the question of whether IA robots should be given rights such as 'realness' is frightening. I personally know that I would not wish to be in a relationship with a robot that lacks individual thought and emotion.

-Davika

Oh the range of emotions I felt as I read this article! Some of them are shock, disbelief, awe, excitement, fear, confusion... the list goes on. I guess I am old fashioned and living in the stone age because I was not aware that robots were taking over human interactions in the way described in the article. Sure, I knew we all play games on our smart-phones to much, and have every electronic known to man in our households... but I did not know we were at an era of human beings having sexual, romantic, or emotional relationships with robots. Did the movie AI come true?? Are we headed for a real Terminator? I honestly am shocked to hear about humans replacing other humans with actual robots. Or replacing pets with pet robots. Did I miss something?

I guess I take the same stance as Sherry Turkle by thinking that these types of connections with robots are ridiculous and completely strays from human normalcies. I do, however, think that some creatures used for exhibits like the turtles at the museum could just as well be robots. People would probably not know the difference, and the real turtles get to enjoy an actual turtle life. I also think that perhaps pet robots may be a good option for some elderly persons who cannot take proper care of themselves let alone a real animal.

But humans having sex with robots... like real robots and not just the stupid gag gifts you see at adult stores... what the? Overall I guess this article scared and shocked me more than anything. I knew we had come a long way with technologies... but I did not know we were already discussing marriage to robots!

Erica

Many different thoughts went through my mind as I read Sherry Turkle's Alone Together introduction. I do agree that computers have changed the way humans interact, but I did not agree with Turkle's point about "Computers no longer wait for humans to project meaning on to them" (2). We have created machines that can operate by themselves in order to make our lives easier, but the machines cannot think for themselves. Humans programmed them to do what we want it is not like the machines are going to change their mind and start doing something else. The robot that is meant for cleaning rugs isn't going to take a sudden career change to the robot that does laundry. What I am trying to get at mostly is that computers are changing human interaction, but humans are allowing these changes. If humans wanted to change the way we use computers for communication they would do it, but people are happy with the place they are at now. Communication skills now a days are lacking and I question if future generations will have necessary social cues to interact with peers and employers.

As I was reading this article, I found it seriously disturbing especially where the person mentioned about having sex with robots. Let alone, having a relationship with them to take away the loneliness of human beings and also considering the marriage to robots. In my opinion, humans are scared of reality more than they should be. We are scared of getting hurt and we are also scared of all the negativity that comes from life. In other words, we are scared of our own species. There is no doubt that some people would hurt your feelings and just do anything to hurt you, but giving in into these kinds of robots, I think it would make us weaker than we are now.

Futuristically speaking, if some natural disaster was to happen, we lose the things that we love, do we really think that we could cope emotionally and physically having these robots around? Or do we need a warm human, compassionate human touch and love to comfort us? As human beings, we learn from our mistakes, we repair relationships, we make it better, we make changes and we ADAPT!. This is what we do best. By having robots replace human beings in relationships, it makes me question; have human beings given up on each other? Have human beings become too good for each other that they just don’t want to deal with the problems that others face? Or is that human beings have been degraded to a life of a robot?

Therefore, if we seriously give in into thinking that we should have an intimate relationship with it in order to escape the reality of life, I think we are seriously pushing that idea too far already. The “natural life” is filled with ups and downs. It is colorful I might say with each individual having their own personality. Filling our lives with robots in the sense to have a relationship with them, I think life would become more monotonous and eventually become of a same color with no meaning in it anymore.

I might portray the idea that I hate robots, I really don’t. I agree with the notion of robots co-existing with us as a TOOL to make our lives better, more advanced but I disagree with the idea of it being “LIKE” us and having a relationship with us. It is just not natural in the sense of …. I’m a living person and it is not a living thing. I guess my mind just questions the fact of having an intimate relationship with a non-living thing. It just does not make sense to me.

Josephine

As I was reading this article, I found it seriously disturbing especially where the person mentioned about having sex with robots. Let alone, having a relationship with them to take away the loneliness of human beings and also considering the marriage to robots. In my opinion, humans are scared of reality more than they should be. We are scared of getting hurt and we are also scared of all the negativity that comes from life. In other words, we are scared of our own species. There is no doubt that some people would hurt your feelings and just do anything to hurt you, but giving in into these kinds of robots, I think it would make us weaker than we are now.

Futuristically speaking, if some natural disaster was to happen, we lose the things that we love, do we really think that we could cope emotionally and physically having these robots around? Or do we need a warm human, compassionate human touch and love to comfort us? As human beings, we learn from our mistakes, we repair relationships, we make it better, we make changes and we ADAPT!. This is what we do best. By having robots replace human beings in relationships, it makes me question; have human beings given up on each other? Have human beings become too good for each other that they just don’t want to deal with the problems that others face? Or is that human beings have been degraded to a life of a robot?

Therefore, if we seriously give in into thinking that we should have an intimate relationship with it in order to escape the reality of life, I think we are seriously pushing that idea too far already. The “natural life” is filled with ups and downs. It is colorful I might say with each individual having their own personality. Filling our lives with robots in the sense to have a relationship with them, I think life would become more monotonous and eventually become of a same color with no meaning in it anymore.

I might portray the idea that I hate robots, I really don’t. I agree with the notion of robots co-existing with us as a TOOL to make our lives better, more advanced but I disagree with the idea of it being “LIKE” us and having a relationship with us. It is just not natural in the sense of …. I’m a living person and it is not a living thing. I guess my mind just questions the fact of having an intimate relationship with a non-living thing. It just does not make sense to me.

Josephine

As I was reading this article, I found it seriously disturbing especially where the person mentioned about having sex with robots. Let alone, having a relationship with them to take away the loneliness of human beings and also considering the marriage to robots. In my opinion, humans are scared of reality more than they should be. We are scared of getting hurt and we are also scared of all the negativity that comes from life. In other words, we are scared of our own species. There is no doubt that some people would hurt your feelings and just do anything to hurt you, but giving in into these kinds of robots, I think it would make us weaker than we are now.

Futuristically speaking, if some natural disaster was to happen, we lose the things that we love, do we really think that we could cope emotionally and physically having these robots around? Or do we need a warm human, compassionate human touch and love to comfort us? As human beings, we learn from our mistakes, we repair relationships, we make it better, we make changes and we ADAPT!. This is what we do best. By having robots replace human beings in relationships, it makes me question; have human beings given up on each other? Have human beings become too good for each other that they just don’t want to deal with the problems that others face? Or is that human beings have been degraded to a life of a robot?

Therefore, if we seriously give in into thinking that we should have an intimate relationship with it in order to escape the reality of life, I think we are seriously pushing that idea too far already. The “natural life” is filled with ups and downs. It is colorful I might say with each individual having their own personality. Filling our lives with robots in the sense to have a relationship with them, I think life would become more monotonous and eventually become of a same color with no meaning in it anymore.

I might portray the idea that I hate robots, I really don’t. I agree with the notion of robots co-existing with us as a TOOL to make our lives better, more advanced but I disagree with the idea of it being “LIKE” us and having a relationship with us. It is just not natural in the sense of …. I’m a living person and it is not a living thing. I guess my mind just questions the fact of having an intimate relationship with a non-living thing. It just does not make sense to me.

Josephine

As I was reading this article, I found it seriously disturbing especially where the person mentioned about having sex with robots. Let alone, having a relationship with them to take away the loneliness of human beings and also considering the marriage to robots. In my opinion, humans are scared of reality more than they should be. We are scared of getting hurt and we are also scared of all the negativity that comes from life. In other words, we are scared of our own species. There is no doubt that some people would hurt your feelings and just do anything to hurt you, but giving in into these kinds of robots, I think it would make us weaker than we are now.

Futuristically speaking, if some natural disaster was to happen, we lose the things that we love, do we really think that we could cope emotionally and physically having these robots around? Or do we need a warm human, compassionate human touch and love to comfort us? As human beings, we learn from our mistakes, we repair relationships, we make it better, we make changes and we ADAPT!. This is what we do best. By having robots replace human beings in relationships, it makes me question; have human beings given up on each other? Have human beings become too good for each other that they just don’t want to deal with the problems that others face? Or is that human beings have been degraded to a life of a robot?

Therefore, if we seriously give in into thinking that we should have an intimate relationship with it in order to escape the reality of life, I think we are seriously pushing that idea too far already. The “natural life” is filled with ups and downs. It is colorful I might say with each individual having their own personality. Filling our lives with robots in the sense to have a relationship with them, I think life would become more monotonous and eventually become of a same color with no meaning in it anymore.

I might portray the idea that I hate robots, I really don’t. I agree with the notion of robots co-existing with us as a TOOL to make our lives better, more advanced but I disagree with the idea of it being “LIKE” us and having a relationship with us. It is just not natural in the sense of …. I’m a living person and it is not a living thing. I guess my mind just questions the fact of having an intimate relationship with a non-living thing. It just does not make sense to me.

Josephine

Sherry Turkle lends little leeway for the possibility that artificial intelligence may one day be on an order of complexity matching biological intelligences. It’s here that her rejection of merit in robot-human relationships—robosexual, plutonic, or other—loses some steam. She and the opposition appear to be working under competing premises.

When she speaks about the man accusing her of “species chauvinism” and of “withholding from robots their right to ‘realness”’, the two are working under different technological assumptions. She supposes strictly a modern technology; that the robots in question are of an entirely vapid artificial intelligence, operating solely under its human-induced programing, and which are void of novelty. While, on the other hand, I suspect her interviewer and Levy—the author of “Love and Sex with Robots”—work under the context of a future artificial intelligence which has reached a sort of neuronal complexity permitting an emergence of intelligence; one where robots may transcended the limits of a programmer’s command and attain a sense of sentience—or perhaps at least novel behavior.

I suppose she answers my concern at the end of the introduction, when it is suggested the question doesn’t depend on how advanced the technology has become, because we voluntarily submit to the charm of even rudimentary technology. For that, look no further than to the men (and women?...) who embrace public companionship with RealDolls; lifeless sex figurines.

-Daniel

It’s frightening to believe that human-like robots will exist within the next few centuries. From the article, the discussion regarding robots that are easier to befriend and robots that are easier to “love” seem quite bizarre. By creating a robot that is able to express human emotions as well as perform physical acts towards other humans, we become adapted to this form of evolution similar to the way we did with the smartphones that are available today.

As a society, we have mixed feelings when we see uncommon interracial relationships on the streets; imagine seeing your buddy with his robotic wife or your children with their robot clique. By introducing robots into society, there will be various problems initially, as do many new products being brought into the market. These problems could be minimal, such as bugs and breakdowns, to drastic problems such as violence. For example, the issues found in the iRobot movie gives a pretty good perspective of a potential society where robots walk among humans.

Vien

Turkle’s description of how robots are used in more nuanced ways today for compassion and connection surprised me and made me realized a “Her” scenario is not far off from our lifetimes. I have yet to see the critically acclaimed movie, but from seeing the trailer I felt that it was a very real possibility for the far future, but reading Turkle’s first hand encounters with emotionally responsive robots has me thinking the possibility might not be too far off. While I do think that it is beneficial for humans, especially older generations because they tend to have harder times socializing and experience the most loss, to have access to these robots, I, like Turkle, get uneasy thinking about robots replacing romantic relationships. I think that there are far too many people in the world who would be drawn to the idea of the “perfect relationship” and not care if it doesn’t have any evolutionary potential, or that it’s not really “real,” and just based on computer algorithms. It might be a good alternative to the overpopulation problem, but mostly I think it’s creepy.

Neira

The author says part of the reason why we created technology is to buy time but we are actually spending too much time with technology. I agree with what he’s saying there because what it means to me is that we’re not fully satisfied with just the way things are with technology. We want to improve its efficiency, which clearly needs more time. We’re loosing relationship amongst each other and gaining a stronger relationship with technology. I certainly don’t understand how some people seem to take their satellite dish and other sorts of technology with them when they go camping. Isn’t it contradicting the purpose of camping?
Are we relying heavily on technology? Is human labor become less fond to the human brain? Reading this article reminded me about another article on the chances of having robots take over many of the things we do. For instance, make music, art, play instruments, etc. Are we soon loosing our rights to robots? When is it that we stand up and put a stop to the growth of technology? Picture World War III: Robots vs. Humans.

Abdifatah

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This page contains a single entry by Capper Nichols published on March 12, 2014 5:42 PM.

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