Making sense of empathy with sociable robots: A new look at the "imaginative perception of emotion"
In the field of social robotics, empathy is somewhat of a "hot topic" for engineers and empirical researchers alike. In this chapter, I examine a philosophical contribution toward making sense of empathy with robots, namely: Misselhorn's (2009) proposal that empathy with robots occurs through the interplay between perception and imagination ("imaginative perception"). I argue that although Misselhorn's explanatory framework captures something true about why people feel empathy for robots, such emotional responses are better conceived of as analogous to perceptual illusions rather than as cases of imaginative perception. I subsequently modify Misselhorn's framework to accommodate this, and then explore whether this modified framework can help account for another emotional response toward robots, the uncanny valley phenomenon. Here, I draw from some examples of empirical research on the uncanny valley. I show that people can (mis)perceive that robots possess attributes like animacy, emotion, and mentation. If one also believes that robots lack these things, then the inconsistency between that belief and the aforementioned misperceptions can make a robot seem eerie. Finally, I conclude that examples of people feeling empathy for robots are not genuine cases of empathy.
Redstone, J.D.B. (Joshua D.B.). (2017). Making sense of empathy with sociable robots: A new look at the "imaginative perception of emotion". In Social Robots: Boundaries, Potential, Challenges (pp. 19–38). doi:10.4324/9781315563084