The robots are coming, but will we love them?


Would you shed a tear if a robot was being tortured before your eyes? According to Astrid Rosenthal-von der Pütten, you just might.

Rosenthal-von der Pütten is a researcher at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, and the author of two recent studies on how humans empathize with machines. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure subjects’ brain activity, she and her colleagues found that participants felt a sense of empathy when seeing a robot subjected to both torture and affection. In some cases, they appeared to treat the onscreen animatron as if it were a human.

Rosenthal-von der Pütten says her research was inspired by recent trends in robotic assisted living. Robots have played an increasingly…

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