"We're not going to wake up someday and say 'It's OK to have a relationship with a robot,'" said Thalia Wheatley, a psychologist at Dartmouth College."But it's going to organically happen that we grow to depend on these things." Relationships short of romance have already blossomed more openly. soldiers have shed tears over wrecked robots and risked their lives to rescue malfunctioning machine companions.Tomorrow's sex robots or virtual companions still won't inspire most people to abandon their boyfriends and girlfriends — at least not until such artificial beings can look and behave human without creeping anyone out.Instead, many more people may find themselves forming platonic bonds with the next generation of smarter robot toys or virtual assistants in their cars and smartphones.Similarly, robots that appear almost human can quickly turn creepy by moving and speaking stiffly.
And a new "Love Plus" game being released on Valentine's Day 2012 in Japan allows the virtual girls to interact with real-life pictures of gamers' favorite romantic spots.Sean and Meta, 37 and 38, respectively, met as avatars.They make up two of approximately seven million registered users of Utherverse, a 3D virtual world geared to an adult audience with a design that was inspired by Amsterdam’s red light district.Psychologists found that people interpret an animation of triangles and a circle moving around a square as "the circle chasing the triangles" in a classic 1944 study, Saygin pointed out.The ability for a robot or virtual companion to trigger human interest is not unlike how artificial sweeteners can satisfy a natural desire for sugar, said Karl Mac Dorman, a robotics researcher at Indiana University.Schoolkids and nursing home residents willingly hug, pet and kiss electronic toys such as the owl-like "Furby" and cuddly "Paro" seal without shame, and treat the simple robots like their own children. Nurturing the killer app Even scientists who should know better find the impulse hard to resist.Ayse Saygin, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego, admitted to feeling guilt whenever one of her Furby toys would start complaining out of "boredom." "We like to think of ourselves as sophisticated emotional beings, but our emotion buttons are easily pressed by low-tech devices," Saygin told Innovation News Daily."People who profess a relationship with a machine are outliers, because they're accepting on a higher cognitive level that it's reasonable behavior," according to Wheatley at Dartmouth College."Most people would say 'no, no, that's not reasonable.'" But plenty of humans may have fallen for common gadgets in a nonromantic sense — something that may only get easier as machines improve beyond the interactions offered by Apple's "Siri" intelligent agent in the i Phone 4S.Such experiences suggest that nurturance is the "killer app" for winning over human hearts and minds, said Sherry Turkle, director of the Initiative on Society and Self at MIT, in a 2007 paper titled "Authenticity in the Age of Digital Companions." She pointed to how digital "Tamagotchi" pets of the 1990s used simple beeping sounds to encourage both kids and their parents to nurture the pets throughout the course of their virtual lives.That emotional manipulation of the nurturing instinct has only evolved over time.