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#AskAMogulAnything:Hi,I'mKateDarling.I’mahuman-robotinteractionresearcherandIstudythecomplicatedethicalrelationshipbetweenhumans&robots.Askmeanythingyou'dlike!YourquestionswillbeansweredLIVE10/31@11amET.

Kate Darling
Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab

Your questions will be answered on Monday, October 31st at 11 am ET. To ask a question, click here to create a Mogul profile, then post a question in the comment section below!

Hi - I'm Kate Darling. 

My specialty is Robot Ethics. From my post as a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, I investigate social robotics and conduct experimental studies on human-robot interaction. I explore the emotional connection between people and life-like machines, seeking to influence technology design and policy direction. My research anticipates difficult questions that lawmakers, engineers, and the wider public will need to address as human-robot relationships evolve in the coming decades. 

Some more information about me: I went to law school and have a doctorate of sciences from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich). I am the caretaker for several domestic robots, including my twin Pleos, Yochai and Peter. I tweet as @grok_ about eating Cheerios for dinner.

Now's your chance to ask me anything! Please write your questions in the comments section below and I'll answer the questions live on Thursday, October 31st at 11 am ET. 


36 replies

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  • Kate Darling
    Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
    3y ago

    Hey everyone, signing off. Thank you SO MUCH for these awesome questions and sorry I couldn't answer them all! If you want more random thoughts on robotics, innovation, and breakfast cereal, I'm @grok_ on Twitter.

    Hey everyone, signing off. Thank you SO MUCH for these awesome questions and sorry I couldn't answer them all! If you want more random thoughts on robotics, innovation, and breakfast cereal, I'm @grok_ on Twitter.

  • Default
    Guest
    3y ago

    and what do you think of uber starting to have cars that drive themselves?

    and what do you think of uber starting to have cars that drive themselves?

  • Default
    Guest
    3y ago

    This is off topic of robots, but I wondered what your thought was on CERN and the goal to try and find the god particle? I'm fascinated by the technology used and the hadron collider.

    This is off topic of robots, but I wondered what your thought was on CERN and the goal to try and find the god particle? I'm fascinated by the technology used and the hadron collider.

  • no_problem
    3y ago

    hey kate! i've always been really interested in the feeling of uncanny, in particular uncanny valley. for example: the movie beowulf gave me a weird feeling because of the CGI used on human actors, the look of teeth in video game characters, horror movies that play on this feeling of "not quite right" and give you a deep unsettling feeling. do you have any resources or books to recommend about how humans and uncanny/unheimlich/our ability to detect so distinctly what is "not quite human", what progress has been made in closing this gap? i would love to read more about this, maybe even pursue this as a career or a side project. thank you so much! your work is really interesting.

    hey kate! i've always been really interested in the feeling of uncanny, in particular uncanny valley. for example: the movie beowulf gave me a weird feeling because of the CGI used on human actors, the look of teeth in video game characters, horror movies that play on this feeling of "not quite right" and give you a deep unsettling feeling. do you have any resources or books to recommend about how humans and uncanny/unheimlich/our ability to detect so distinctly what is "not quite human", what progress has been made in closing this gap? i would love to read more about this, maybe even pursue this as a career or a side project. thank you so much! your work is really interesting.

    • no_problem
      3y ago

      also, i noticed that for robot design, many of the ones i have seen use friendly design, soft lines, or human-like features, there's a way that robots "should" look in our minds. what's the reasoning for that? is it easier to accept when they look somewhat familiar?

      also, i noticed that for robot design, many of the ones i have seen use friendly design, soft lines, or human-like features, there's a way that robots "should" look in our minds. what's the reasoning for that? is it easier to accept when they look somewhat familiar?

      • Kate Darling
        Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
        3y ago

        You should pursue it! It’s such an interesting problem that technology designers face. Right now, the most cleverly designed robots don’t try to get too close to anything that we're very familiar with and could directly compare to. If you try to accurately replicate, say, a dog or a human, people will compare the two and the “flaws" in the fake one will creep them out. So roboticists work with animators to create compelling shapes that people will project their imagination onto, and they tend to hint at things rather than trying to add too much detail. I think there’s still a lot to explore along those lines.

        You should pursue it! It’s such an interesting problem that technology designers face. Right now, the most cleverly designed robots don’t try to get too close to anything that we're very familiar with and could directly compare to. If you try to accurately replicate, say, a dog or a human, people will compare the two and the “flaws" in the fake one will creep them out. So roboticists work with animators to create compelling shapes that people will project their imagination onto, and they tend to hint at things rather than trying to add too much detail. I think there’s still a lot to explore along those lines.

  • Kate Darling
    Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
    3y ago

    Hello! I’ll be here for the next hour answering some of the wonderful questions that have already been posted, as well as new questions that come in. Ask me anything you want. Really!

    Hello! I’ll be here for the next hour answering some of the wonderful questions that have already been posted, as well as new questions that come in. Ask me anything you want. Really!

  • kevin
    kevin Global Partnerships Lead
    3y ago New York, NY, United States

    Hey Kate! Do you have time to watch TV? If so what's your favorite current television show? Favorite of all time?

    Hey Kate! Do you have time to watch TV? If so what's your favorite current television show? Favorite of all time?

    • Kate Darling
      Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
      3y ago

      Hey Kevin, I’m currently an avid Westworld and South Park watcher. Favorite all time shows include Star Trek TNG, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Futurama. What are your favorite shows? Do you have any recs?

      Hey Kevin, I’m currently an avid Westworld and South Park watcher. Favorite all time shows include Star Trek TNG, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Futurama. What are your favorite shows? Do you have any recs?

  • Default
    Guest
    3y ago

    What are the latest developments in robots and AI?

    What are the latest developments in robots and AI?

    • Default
      Guest
      3y ago

      Does the rapid development of technology ever scare you? I often wonder if humans are what could end up destroying ourselves due to the idea of technology eventually outsmarting humans.

      Does the rapid development of technology ever scare you? I often wonder if humans are what could end up destroying ourselves due to the idea of technology eventually outsmarting humans.

      • Kate Darling
        Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
        3y ago

        It's possible, but I'm more worried about humans using technology in nefarious ways than I am about the technology developing its own agenda. I think that fear distracts from very real near-term problems in AI.

        It's possible, but I'm more worried about humans using technology in nefarious ways than I am about the technology developing its own agenda. I think that fear distracts from very real near-term problems in AI.

  • Sarah Fein
    3y ago

    What is your prediction of how robots will interact with society?

    What is your prediction of how robots will interact with society?

  • Lucy Chen
    3y ago Chicago, IL, United States

    You are so cool! how did you get into this field? how does someone follow in your footsteps?

    You are so cool! how did you get into this field? how does someone follow in your footsteps?

    • Kate Darling
      Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
      3y ago

      Hi Lucy, it was a coincidence! I went to law school and was aiming to be a law professor, but I did a project at MIT during my PhD and then got so fascinated by questions in robotics that I switched direction. One way to get into an interdisciplinary field is to follow a traditional path of becoming an expert in one thing (because you need a basis of knowledge/credibility), but instead of getting entrenched, keeping an open mind and a willingness to delve into and collaborate with other fields. The most interesting questions tend to be at the intersections, and not enough people go there because they’re too focused on following a traditional career path.

      Hi Lucy, it was a coincidence! I went to law school and was aiming to be a law professor, but I did a project at MIT during my PhD and then got so fascinated by questions in robotics that I switched direction. One way to get into an interdisciplinary field is to follow a traditional path of becoming an expert in one thing (because you need a basis of knowledge/credibility), but instead of getting entrenched, keeping an open mind and a willingness to delve into and collaborate with other fields. The most interesting questions tend to be at the intersections, and not enough people go there because they’re too focused on following a traditional career path.

  • Jan Johnston Osburn
    Jan Johnston Osburn Mogul Influencer | Career & Life Coach | Helping People Turn Dreams into Realities
    3y ago Washington, DC, United States

    Hi Kate! Fast forward 10 - 20 years, what do you think we will be seeing in the world of robotics in the near future? Also, what IS the most complex relationship between humans and robots right now?

    Hi Kate! Fast forward 10 - 20 years, what do you think we will be seeing in the world of robotics in the near future? Also, what IS the most complex relationship between humans and robots right now?

    • Kate Darling
      Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
      3y ago

      Hi Jan, I think the main big thing we’re going to see in the next 10-20 years is robots and humans interacting! In all sorts of areas! Transportation systems, hospitals, workplaces, homes. So we need to figure out how to best design, use, and even regulate robots as they become an integral part of our lives. (See above answers for some of the complexity that entails.)

      Hi Jan, I think the main big thing we’re going to see in the next 10-20 years is robots and humans interacting! In all sorts of areas! Transportation systems, hospitals, workplaces, homes. So we need to figure out how to best design, use, and even regulate robots as they become an integral part of our lives. (See above answers for some of the complexity that entails.)

  • Bethany Heinrich
    Bethany Heinrich Mogul Influencer
    3y ago New York, NY, United States

    Such a pleasure to have you as a guest on AAMA! I'm so curious about your thoughts on the following: I recently read an article that said in the future men and women will have two soulmates - one human and one that's a robot. What's your opinion of people 'dating' human-like robots? Do you foresee this as something that will happen, and if so, what are the dangers you predict that come with a trend such as this? It's pretty scary in my opinion.

    Such a pleasure to have you as a guest on AAMA! I'm so curious about your thoughts on the following: I recently read an article that said in the future men and women will have two soulmates - one human and one that's a robot. What's your opinion of people 'dating' human-like robots? Do you foresee this as something that will happen, and if so, what are the dangers you predict that come with a trend such as this? It's pretty scary in my opinion.

    • Kate Darling
      Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
      3y ago

      Hi Bethany, I’d be interested in reading that article! Do you remember where it was? This is a good question. I’m actually not that worried about the concept of dating a robot. Humans are interesting in that we’re able to have a lot of different kinds of relationships. To other people, to animals, and even to things. And a lot of times these relationships complement each other instead of substituting or replacing. Of course, our attention is limited and I do believe that at some point, *some* people might choose to date robots *instead* of humans. But I have a lot of faith in most people’s ability to value the authenticity of human relationships and the difficulties that come with them. To me the main danger of emotional relationships with robots is the fact that somebody will be making and selling the robots, and that they will be serving their own interests. Is it ok if your sex bot has in-app purchases? That’s pretty manipulative, so my near-term worry isn’t the relationships themselves, but rather exploitation of these relationships by others.

      Hi Bethany, I’d be interested in reading that article! Do you remember where it was? This is a good question. I’m actually not that worried about the concept of dating a robot. Humans are interesting in that we’re able to have a lot of different kinds of relationships. To other people, to animals, and even to things. And a lot of times these relationships complement each other instead of substituting or replacing. Of course, our attention is limited and I do believe that at some point, *some* people might choose to date robots *instead* of humans. But I have a lot of faith in most people’s ability to value the authenticity of human relationships and the difficulties that come with them. To me the main danger of emotional relationships with robots is the fact that somebody will be making and selling the robots, and that they will be serving their own interests. Is it ok if your sex bot has in-app purchases? That’s pretty manipulative, so my near-term worry isn’t the relationships themselves, but rather exploitation of these relationships by others.

      • Bethany Heinrich
        Bethany Heinrich Mogul Influencer
        3y ago New York, NY, United States

        Here is that article! http://www.businessinsider.com/8-ways-dating-may-look-different-by-2040-2016-2 It's such an interesting discussion, but I'm glad you think humans will continue to choose dating humans. I had a discussion with someone on this earlier in the year and they said they might choose dating a robot because a) they would never age and b) never get sick. So it's interesting to think about dating someone 'perfect' but not real.

        Here is that article! http://www.businessinsider.com/8-ways-dating-may-look-different-by-2040-2016-2 It's such an interesting discussion, but I'm glad you think humans will continue to choose dating humans. I had a discussion with someone on this earlier in the year and they said they might choose dating a robot because a) they would never age and b) never get sick. So it's interesting to think about dating someone 'perfect' but not real.

        • Kate Darling
          Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
          3y ago

          Thanks Bethany! Super interesting

          Thanks Bethany! Super interesting

  • glasshalffull100

    Also - I'd love to hear more about your twin robots. How big are they? What kinds of things do they do? How long have you had them and will you continue to have them in your life?

    Also - I'd love to hear more about your twin robots. How big are they? What kinds of things do they do? How long have you had them and will you continue to have them in your life?

    • Kate Darling
      Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
      3y ago

      You can see one of them in my profile picture. Check out pleoworld.com I imagine I’ll have them for quite a while. I got the first one in 2007 and it broke years ago, but I haven’t thrown it away, not even after reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up!

      You can see one of them in my profile picture. Check out pleoworld.com I imagine I’ll have them for quite a while. I got the first one in 2007 and it broke years ago, but I haven’t thrown it away, not even after reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up!

  • glasshalffull100

    What's your advice to young women who are interested in pursuing careers in technology?

    What's your advice to young women who are interested in pursuing careers in technology?

    • Kate Darling
      Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
      3y ago

      Surround yourself with people who are supportive. Find multiple champions and mentors. And most of all, believe in yourself! That sounds cheesy, but you don’t need to develop a “thick skin” if you have a solid core.

      Surround yourself with people who are supportive. Find multiple champions and mentors. And most of all, believe in yourself! That sounds cheesy, but you don’t need to develop a “thick skin” if you have a solid core.

  • miranda444
    3y ago

    Thanks for answering our questions. Your field is very interesting. Do you see a future where some humans have trouble separating what's human from what's robotic or man-made? Is there a future you foresee in which humans are falling in love with robots?

    Thanks for answering our questions. Your field is very interesting. Do you see a future where some humans have trouble separating what's human from what's robotic or man-made? Is there a future you foresee in which humans are falling in love with robots?

    • Kate Darling
      Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
      3y ago

      Hey Miranda. I actually think we’re already in that future, in some ways. We see from human-robot interaction research that people will treat robots like they’re alive. Now of course people understand on a rational level that robots are just machines, but subconsciously we already appear to have some trouble separating robots from living things. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we confuse robots for humans, but we are certainly starting to treat some robots more like animals than devices. For example, have you seen the PARO therapeutic robot? (This year it had a cameo on the TV show Master of None.) It’s a baby seal robot that convincingly gives people the sense of nurturing something. And people have said “I love you” to it! I honestly think it doesn’t take much for us to love… people will form emotional connections to with objects, like cars and stuffed animals, and some people will certainly fall in love with robots in the future. Even if they can’t love us back!

      Hey Miranda. I actually think we’re already in that future, in some ways. We see from human-robot interaction research that people will treat robots like they’re alive. Now of course people understand on a rational level that robots are just machines, but subconsciously we already appear to have some trouble separating robots from living things. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we confuse robots for humans, but we are certainly starting to treat some robots more like animals than devices. For example, have you seen the PARO therapeutic robot? (This year it had a cameo on the TV show Master of None.) It’s a baby seal robot that convincingly gives people the sense of nurturing something. And people have said “I love you” to it! I honestly think it doesn’t take much for us to love… people will form emotional connections to with objects, like cars and stuffed animals, and some people will certainly fall in love with robots in the future. Even if they can’t love us back!

  • Sally22
    3y ago

    Your career is very impressive. Are there many women in your field? Did you have female mentors who helped you along your career path?

    Your career is very impressive. Are there many women in your field? Did you have female mentors who helped you along your career path?

    • Kate Darling
      Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
      3y ago

      Thanks Sally. I’m fortunate that I’ve always been surrounded by impressive women and in my current home at the Media Lab, over half of the roboticists in the group are female. My career was more coincidental than anything else and mostly resulted from following my interests. I realized early on that having just one mentor is not ideal… mentors are important, but they also tend to advise you as if you were a mini-me of themselves. In other words, they’ll usually tell you to do exactly what THEY did at your career stage (understandably, since that worked out well for them). But sometimes that’s not what YOU should be doing. So I have a variety of wonderful people I look up to and have taken their advice gratefully but selectively. My favorite piece of advice from a female mentor was a few years ago. I was being insecure and questioning whether I was really qualified enough for something I was clearly qualified for. Tricia Wang (who is an amazing technology ethnographer I met at Harvard) grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye, and said “Kate! Would a man say that?"

      Thanks Sally. I’m fortunate that I’ve always been surrounded by impressive women and in my current home at the Media Lab, over half of the roboticists in the group are female. My career was more coincidental than anything else and mostly resulted from following my interests. I realized early on that having just one mentor is not ideal… mentors are important, but they also tend to advise you as if you were a mini-me of themselves. In other words, they’ll usually tell you to do exactly what THEY did at your career stage (understandably, since that worked out well for them). But sometimes that’s not what YOU should be doing. So I have a variety of wonderful people I look up to and have taken their advice gratefully but selectively. My favorite piece of advice from a female mentor was a few years ago. I was being insecure and questioning whether I was really qualified enough for something I was clearly qualified for. Tricia Wang (who is an amazing technology ethnographer I met at Harvard) grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye, and said “Kate! Would a man say that?"

  • jess p
    3y ago New York, NY, United States

    Hey Kate! Do you watch the new series Westworld? If yes, what do you think of it? And do you think that in the future, robots could look, act and interact with others exactly like humans that we won't be able to tell the difference?

    Hey Kate! Do you watch the new series Westworld? If yes, what do you think of it? And do you think that in the future, robots could look, act and interact with others exactly like humans that we won't be able to tell the difference?

    • Kate Darling
      Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
      3y ago

      Hey Jessica, I’m enjoying Westworld a lot! And part of what I like about it so far is that there *are* differences between the robots and the humans in the way that they function. I’m hoping that the show stays in that moral grey area and doesn’t make them too human-like in what they can experience and remember, because I think it’s way more interesting to explore the ethics of whether those differences justify a different treatment of robots and humans. That said, I think that it will take a loooooong time before we can actually build robots that mimic humans so convincingly. It’s not out of the question, it’s just very difficult. In part because if you don’t get it exactly right, you wind up with something that many people find unsettling and creepy. I do think that when we try we get something very... uh... fascinating :-) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYshJRYCArE

      Hey Jessica, I’m enjoying Westworld a lot! And part of what I like about it so far is that there *are* differences between the robots and the humans in the way that they function. I’m hoping that the show stays in that moral grey area and doesn’t make them too human-like in what they can experience and remember, because I think it’s way more interesting to explore the ethics of whether those differences justify a different treatment of robots and humans. That said, I think that it will take a loooooong time before we can actually build robots that mimic humans so convincingly. It’s not out of the question, it’s just very difficult. In part because if you don’t get it exactly right, you wind up with something that many people find unsettling and creepy. I do think that when we try we get something very... uh... fascinating :-) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYshJRYCArE

  • MaryPflumPeterson

    Hi Kate - So great to have you answering questions on Ask A Mogul Anything! What do you believe are the greatest challenges facing society when it comes to robots and the human/robot relationship? Are we paying as much attention to the robot/ human relationship as we should?

    Hi Kate - So great to have you answering questions on Ask A Mogul Anything! What do you believe are the greatest challenges facing society when it comes to robots and the human/robot relationship? Are we paying as much attention to the robot/ human relationship as we should?

    • Kate Darling
      Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
      3y ago

      Hi Mary, thank you, it’s great to be here! To answer your second question first: yes and no. Robots are moving from behind the scenes in factories into more and more areas of our lives, where they’re starting to interact with humans. So right now, robots and AI are getting a lot of attention in the media, but most of the conversation centers around whether they will take all of our jobs, whether AI will kill us all, or how to program morals into robots. Some of this focus seems a little misguided by science fiction and pop culture. I would like to see more attention given to some of the questions we are facing right now and will face in the next decade or two, and those questions are about how we use robots in our lives. Robots aren’t nearly advanced enough to replace humans and won’t be for a long time, but they are advanced enough to interact with us in workplaces and homes. To me, the most interesting thing about how humans interact with robots is that we subconsciously treat them as though they were living things. People will name robots, see intentionality in the way that robots move, feel bad for robots when they get stuck, and even treat them like pets. And the fact that people consistently relate to even the most simple robots on such a visceral, emotional level raises some issues around design and use. The biggest challenges are questions of whether companies can exploit people's emotional responses to the technology, or how to ensure privacy and data security, or the ethics of using robots in a variety of ways with vulnerable populations like the elderly and children (for whom most social robots are being designed), and also whether interacting with robots can change or shape people’s behavior. For example: could being violent towards lifelike robots encourage violence in other contexts, or could robots serve as a healthy outlet for people with violent or sexually deviant urges? We don’t know the answer to this, but the technology is already here.

      Hi Mary, thank you, it’s great to be here! To answer your second question first: yes and no. Robots are moving from behind the scenes in factories into more and more areas of our lives, where they’re starting to interact with humans. So right now, robots and AI are getting a lot of attention in the media, but most of the conversation centers around whether they will take all of our jobs, whether AI will kill us all, or how to program morals into robots. Some of this focus seems a little misguided by science fiction and pop culture. I would like to see more attention given to some of the questions we are facing right now and will face in the next decade or two, and those questions are about how we use robots in our lives. Robots aren’t nearly advanced enough to replace humans and won’t be for a long time, but they are advanced enough to interact with us in workplaces and homes. To me, the most interesting thing about how humans interact with robots is that we subconsciously treat them as though they were living things. People will name robots, see intentionality in the way that robots move, feel bad for robots when they get stuck, and even treat them like pets. And the fact that people consistently relate to even the most simple robots on such a visceral, emotional level raises some issues around design and use. The biggest challenges are questions of whether companies can exploit people's emotional responses to the technology, or how to ensure privacy and data security, or the ethics of using robots in a variety of ways with vulnerable populations like the elderly and children (for whom most social robots are being designed), and also whether interacting with robots can change or shape people’s behavior. For example: could being violent towards lifelike robots encourage violence in other contexts, or could robots serve as a healthy outlet for people with violent or sexually deviant urges? We don’t know the answer to this, but the technology is already here.

  • VivianaVizcaino
    VivianaVizcaino Viviana
    3y ago New York, NY, United States

    Another question I have for you is what do you foresee for marketing analytics/research as a field in the future? Is it losing to computer programs? Or simply changing? If it's changing, not losing, then in what ways?

    Another question I have for you is what do you foresee for marketing analytics/research as a field in the future? Is it losing to computer programs? Or simply changing? If it's changing, not losing, then in what ways?

  • VivianaVizcaino
    VivianaVizcaino Viviana
    3y ago New York, NY, United States

    Considering the Disney movie Wall-E, what do you think the relationship between the United States and technology stands to become in the future?

    Considering the Disney movie Wall-E, what do you think the relationship between the United States and technology stands to become in the future?

    • Kate Darling
      Kate Darling Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab
      3y ago

      Hey Viviana. First of all, I love Wall-E! Such a great movie—clever AND adorable. I also think you’re right that it comments on possible technological futures given certain trends in the US. One of the movie’s projections—that robots will take over most of what are now humans’ jobs—is a pretty big topic of discussion all over the world right now. There are a lot of near-term concerns that people may suffer from labor market disruptions. But one of the more long-term questions that people are asking is what will we DO when we no longer have to work? I think Wall-E really captures the essence of my personal answer to this question. On the one hand, there’s a trend toward making life as easy and pleasant as possible (and what the humans in Wall-E are doing seems only one small step beyond our current practices of driving a few blocks to the gym with a large sugary beverage in hand). Any desire to feel productive could potentially be satisfied through meaningless games and stimuli. On the other hand, the story development in Wall-E reflects my optimism and my belief in humans as fundamentally striving to explore and create and progress. We will seek new challenges. We will create new structures and industries and pursuits. And technology will always be a tool rather than the ultimate solution.

      Hey Viviana. First of all, I love Wall-E! Such a great movie—clever AND adorable. I also think you’re right that it comments on possible technological futures given certain trends in the US. One of the movie’s projections—that robots will take over most of what are now humans’ jobs—is a pretty big topic of discussion all over the world right now. There are a lot of near-term concerns that people may suffer from labor market disruptions. But one of the more long-term questions that people are asking is what will we DO when we no longer have to work? I think Wall-E really captures the essence of my personal answer to this question. On the one hand, there’s a trend toward making life as easy and pleasant as possible (and what the humans in Wall-E are doing seems only one small step beyond our current practices of driving a few blocks to the gym with a large sugary beverage in hand). Any desire to feel productive could potentially be satisfied through meaningless games and stimuli. On the other hand, the story development in Wall-E reflects my optimism and my belief in humans as fundamentally striving to explore and create and progress. We will seek new challenges. We will create new structures and industries and pursuits. And technology will always be a tool rather than the ultimate solution.


Kate Darling
Leading Expert in Robot Ethics, Researcher at MIT Media Lab

Dr. Kate Darling is a leading expert in Robot Ethics. She’s a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, where she investigates social robotics and conducts experimental studies on human-robot interaction. Kate explores the emotional connection between people and [...]

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