Authenticity in the age of digital companions

Interaction Studies 8 (3):501-517 (2007)

Abstract

The first generation of children to grow up with electronic toys and games saw computers as our “nearest neighbors.” They spoke of computers as rational machines and of people as emotional machines, a fragile formulation destined to be challenged. By the mid-1990s, computational creatures, including robots, were presenting themselves as “relational artifacts,” beings with feelings and needs. One consequence of this development is a crisis in authenticity in many quarters. In an increasing number of situations, people behave as though they no longer place value on living things and authentic emotion. This paper examines watershed moments in the history of human–machine interaction, focusing on the pertinence of relational artifacts to our collective perception of aliveness, life’s purposes, and the implications of relational artifacts for relationships. For now, the exploration of human–robot encounters leads us to questions about the morality of creating believable digital companions that are evocative but not authentic.

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