How we treat animals will inform our future with robots

By Evan Selinger

A few years ago, I read a fascinating paper by Kate Darling, a research specialist at the MIT Media Lab, that left a lasting impression. In “Extending Legal Protection to Social Robots: The Effects of Anthropomorphism, Empathy, and Violent Behavior Towards Robotic Objects,” Kate clarifies how easy it is, given the way the human mind works, for us to become emotionally attached to all kinds of robots — robots that have humanlike, animal-like, or even basic lifelike features. Given this tendency, she proposed a radical idea: granting robots some legal protections. Kate’s core insight is that as humanlike robots become more advanced and more deeply integrated into society, we should be wary of people becoming accustomed to mistreating them.

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