Reality Bytes

If consciousness is, in fact, an outgrowth of our relationships … then I don’t see any barrier to robots developing a self awareness. And then what?

Sal Restivo Open Source

[Booked for Aired on Tuesday, Feb. 28]

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)


[Honda’s robot Asimo, serving coffee Divedi/Flickr]

As a culture that comfortably resides in cyberspace, that uses robots–in one form or another—every day, we are constantly toggling between two universes, one virtual, one real. Making this transition is easy; the hard part is distinguishing one world from the other. As we become more like robots, with our iPod and cell phone appendages—and as robots become more like us, in their capacity to communicate and to do our work, inevitably our notions of what it means to be human are challenged.

Psychologist Sherry Turkle has spent a career exploring human development in a digital age. Her essay on Edge, World Question Center, which inspired this show, raises all kinds of provocative questions.

What will it do to us? Do plans to provide relational robots to attend to children and the elderly make us less likely to look for other solutions for their care? When we see children and the elderly exchanging tenderness with robotic pets the most important question is not whether children will love their robotic pets more than their real life pets or even their parents, but rather, what will loving come to mean? If our experience with relational artifacts is based on a fundamentally deceitful interchange, can it be good for us? Or might it be good for us in the “feel good” sense, but bad for us in our lives as moral beings?

Sherry Turkle, Edge, World Question Center,”What is Your Dangerous Idea?”

In addition to studying the moral and emotional consequences of interacting with robots, Turkle also questions how this changes our definition of what is real.

After several generations of living in the computer culture, simulation will become fully naturalized. Authenticity in the traditional sense loses its value, a vestige of another time.

Sherry Turkle,Edge, World Question Center,”What is Your Dangerous Idea?”

This hour with Sherry Turkle, and others, is the second installment of our Dangerous Idea series. Do robots threaten our sense of uniqueness? Or do we use such devices as laptops, blackberry’s, and iPods to define who we are? Can another mode of existence become more real or powerful than ours? Does a robot have its own personality? Does a clone have it’s own identity? How do you define what is real—and what is unreal?

Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle is a clinical psychologist and a professor of Science, Technology and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Author: Life on the Screen: Identity in the age of the Internet, Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit

Geoff Nunberg

Linguist Geoff Nunberg teaches at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Information. He’s the author of Going Nucular and the forthcoming Talking Right.

He’s a frequent contributor to Fresh Air

[On the phone from California]

Sal Restivo

Sal Restivo is Professor of Sociology and Science Studies in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Aaron Lemon-Strauss

Arron Lemon-Strauss is the producer of Heddatron , an adaptation of Hedda Gabler with robots. The robots were deisgned by Cindy Jeffers and Meredith Finkelstein of Botmatrix.

Bob Hawkins

Bob Hawkins is a futurist who tracks the latest technology trends on his blog Robot Gossip

Related Content