Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Book Review: 'A Compassionate Guide For Social Robots' by Marcel Heerink

A Compassionate Guide For Social Robots by [Heerink, Marcel]
They think their mobile phones are so smart that they actually call them ‘smartphones.’

Dutch author Marcel Heerink earned his PhD from the University of Amsterdam, his thesis being based on a study of acceptance of social robots by older adults. He has since become an internationally renowned academic researcher specializing in using social robots in therapy and education for people with special needs, like children with autism, people with dementia and (long term) hospitalized children. He has experience in psycholinguistics, advertising, and language training. He commitment for this book is the share his views the psychological and social aspects of human-robot interaction, but also philosophical considerations and emerging ethical issues. His works are published in both Dutch and English

Marcel’s brisk sense of humor adds to the compendium of insights and knowledge this important little book shares, and to understand the point of view of the book’s content he opens with this very fine ‘On the peculiarity of people’ – ‘Right, first of all, I shouldn’t be kidding myself. If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re not a robot at all. You could just be a human. I wouldn’t even be surprised if this book is actually read more by humans than by robots, even though I have really made it clear on the cover that it’s a guide for social robots. The fact that people do this obviously has something to do with their irrepressible curiosity, but it has even more to do with their tendency to assume things to be there for them in the first place. Really, if you care to analyze their views and behaviors, you can’t help but notice they take it for granted that everything in the universe revolves around them[. Even those who know very well that this is not accurate will still very often act on this assumption, just because it is in their nature to stick to an attitude that makes the world seem less complicated. This demonstrates a second thing that you have to know about humans: it hardly matters how much knowledge they acquire, because all this knowledge has a negligible influence on the assumptions that are so deeply rooted in their nature. In fact, they do surprisingly much against their better knowledge. They exhaust our planet completely while knowing that this is not such a good idea; they smoke nicotine sticks, knowing that this gives them a greater chance of terrible diseases; they show up late while knowing that it’s important to be there on time and actually offensive if you’re not; they let their egos bump massively into each other, knowing that no one benefits from this at all; they search for the truth but are far too often not prepared to face it; and when you tell them unbelievable stories, they simply suspend their disbelief if it makes them feel good. In short, they do things that are not good for them while being absolutely aware that these things are not good for them. They can’t help doing them, just because it is in their nature to do them anyway. This illustrates how they are, in an often-surprising way, not as rational as you are. Not even close, actually…..’

Examining human behavior and interactivity is from a robot’s vantage – and it makes for insightful and hilarious ‘education’ on what human created robots think of our idiosyncrasies. Marcel includes brief stories to illustrate his wise outlook. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, December 18

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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