Connection with robots

This summer I was in Japan and I was shocked by the many robots I saw.

Like Pepper, a humanoid of about 1.40 meter. He was welcoming us when we entered  the Softbank-shop. He shook hands with my husband and started talking in Japanese (so Robots soulno clue what he was saying). Then he turned his head to my husband and rolled with his eyes. As an anti-robot-fan I felt  immediately in love: “Ooh how sweet”. Probably shots of oxytocin, the love hormone, flew through my body. I really felt a connection! And that while he didn’t look very human at all.

In my daily work I’m specialised in empathy and connection. How can we create more empathic connections for more work satisfaction and effectiveness? What is empathy? What happens in our body, mind and soul, when we experience connection? I’m helping managers to increase their empathic skills. And teams to improve their capacity to connect with the organisational ánd human needs. So I’m curious to find out what is the essence of empathy. According to my latest experience this skill is not restricted to humans only!

Robot empathy

Pepper is designed by Aldebaran Robotics, a part of the Japanese Softbank. With the purpose to be a genuine day-to-day companion, whose number one quality is his ability to perceive emotions. He is the first humanoid robot capable of recognising the principal human emotions and adapting his behaviour to the mood of his interlocutor. More than 140 SoftBank Mobile stores in Japan are using Pepper as a new way of welcoming, informing and amusing their customers. And he also recently became the first humanoid robot to be adopted in Japanese homes.

And then – in Miraikan, the museum of emerging science and innovation – I met with some androids: robots who look and act like human beings and have bodies with a flesh-like resemblance. It was a girl of about 12 years and woman in her twenties, designed by the famous Hiroshi Ishiguro. I was even more in shock. They looked so real! It was something in the way they moved and spoke which gave away their origin.  According to the Japanese these robots have a soul as well., like any other mechanically object. Maybe that explains why robots are so much more accepted by the Japanese than in the Western countries?

Robots, your soulmate with a soul?

If they do have a soul, what will be in the end the difference between a human and an android? What makes a human human?

I’m curious how we as Dutch will progress in accepting robots. And how leading we will be in robotics. I will put my cards on the team of Vanessa Evers, professor of Computer Science at the University of Twente’s Human Media Interaction group.

In the meantime I will continue with my studies on human and robot empathy.