Sherry Turkle


American Educator and Cultural Analyst, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Wilson?s way of keeping in mind the dual aspects of the Furby?s nature seems to me a philosophical version of multitasking, so central to our twentieth-century attentional ecology. His attitude is pragmatic. If something that seems to have a self is before him, he deals with the aspect of self he finds most relevant to the context.

These days, insecure in our relationships and anxious about intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in relationships and protect ourselves from them at the same time.

We are shaped by our tools.

Zane, six, knows that AIBO doesn?t have a real brain and heart, but they are real enough. AIBO is kind of alive because it can function as if it had a brain and heart.

These young people have grown up with sociable robot pets, the companions of their playrooms, which portrayed emotion, said they cared, and asked to be cared for. We are psychologically programmed not only to nurture what we love but to love what we nurture. So even simple artificial creatures can provoke heartfelt attachment. Many teenagers anticipate that the robot toys of their childhood will give way to full-fledged machine companions. In the psychoanalytic tradition, a symptom addresses a conflict but distracts us from understanding or resolving it; a dream expresses a wish. Sociable robots serve as both symptom and dream: as a symptom, they promise a way to sidestep conflicts about intimacy; as a dream, they express a wish for relationships with limits, a way to be both together and alone.

We are substituting ?real conversations? with shallower, ?dumbed-down? connections that give us a false sense of security. Similarly, we are capable of presenting ourselves in a very particular way that hides our faults and exaggerates our better qualities

They are learning a way of feeling connected in which they have permission to think only of themselves.

We ask [ of the computer ] not just about where we stand in nature, but about where we stand in the world of artefact. We search for a link between who we are and what we have made, between who we are and what we might create, between who we are and what, through our intimacy with our own creations, we might become.

This distinctive confusion: these days, whether you are online or not, it is easy for people to end up unsure if they are closer together or further apart.

We expect more from technology and less from each other.

This give-and-take prepares children for the expectation of relationship with machines that is at the heart of the robotic moment.

We seem determined to give human qualities to objects and content to treat each other as things.

I love sharing photographs and websites, I'm for all of these things. I'm for Facebook. But to say that this is sociability? We begin to define things in terms of what technology enables and technology allows.

Now, relational artifacts pose these questions directly.

The elderly are the first to have companionate robots aggressively marketed to them, but young people also see the merits of robotic companionship. These days, teenagers have sexual adulthood thrust upon them before they are ready to deal with the complexities of relationships. They are drawn to the comfort of connection without the demands of intimacy. This may lead them to a hookup? sex without commitment or even caring. Or it may lead to an online romance? companionship that can always be interrupted. Not surprisingly, teenagers are drawn to love stories in which full intimacy cannot occur?here I think of current passions for films and novels about high school vampires who cannot sexually consummate relationships for fear of hurting those they love. And teenagers are drawn to the idea of technological communion. They talk easily of robots that would be safe and predictable companions.

I think computers are the ultimate writing tool. I'm a very slow writer, so I appreciate it every day.

Our new media are well suited for accomplishing the rudimentary. And because this is what technology serves up, we reduce our expectations of each other.

The feeling that ?no one is listening to me? make us want to spend time with machines that seem to care about us.

I think few people of education enter politics because it seems like a contact blood sport.

Our world has more ?technology? in it than ever before and it is taking up more and more hours of our day.

The first thing missing if you take a robot as a companion is alterity, the ability to see the world through the eyes of another.5 Without alterity, there can be no empathy.

I think that we live in techno-enthusiastic times. We celebrate our technologies because people are frightened by the world we've made.

People are lonely. The network is seductive. But if we are always on, we may deny ourselves the rewards of solitude.

The idea of sociable robots suggests that we might navigate intimacy by skirting it. People seem comforted by the belief that if we alienate or fail each other, robots will be there, programmed to provide simulations of love. Our population is aging; there will be robots to take care of us. Our children are neglected; robots will tend to them. We are too exhausted to deal with each other in adversity; robots will have the energy. Robots won?t be judgmental. We will be accommodated. An older woman says of her robot dog, ?It is better than a real dog. . . . It won?t do dangerous things, and it won?t betray you. . . . Also, it won?t die suddenly and abandon you and make you very sad.?

If AIBO is in some sense a toy, it is a toy that changes minds. It does this in several ways. It heightens our sense of being close to developing a post-biological life and not just in theory or in the laboratory. And it suggests how this passage will take place. It will begin with our seeing the new life as as if life and then deciding that as if may be life enough. Even now, as we contemplate creatures with artificial feelings and intelligence, we come to reflect differently on our own. The question here is not whether machines can be made to think like people but whether people have always thought like machines.

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American Educator and Cultural Analyst, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology