Robot Empathy: We Get Sad When Our Android Overlords Are Harmed [Video]

As if rising up to fight our nigh-invincible robot overlords isn’t bad enough, we humans are also plagued with something called “robot empathy,” meaning we feel for our android counterparts even if the feeling isn’t mutual.

If you really felt something for WALL-E or cried at the end of Terminator 2, then you have experienced “robot empathy” before. The phenomenon was discovered during research performed at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany had 40 subjects watching a YouTube video of a robot dinosaur toy affectionately cuddled, and another of it being mishandled and abused.

By reading people’s levels of excitement after watching the videos, researchers were able to determine how we felt about robot abuse and affection. They especially pad attention to the skin, because when a person experiences strong emotions, they sweat more.

Volunteers reported feeling negative emotions after watching the dinosaur toy be abused, and their skin showed that they were indeed distressed.

Another study watched brain patterns while subjects viewed a woman get beaten up and strangled, with the same abuse being dealt to a robot in another clip.

While those subjects empathized more with the abused woman, they also felt negatively about watching a robot experience the same brutality.

Some people find the idea of human beings empathizing with robots concerning (you think?), but one researcher opined that we, as humans, are doing the same thing with robots that we do with animals.

“We have been doing this for millennia,” he said. “I think we’re doing the same thing with robots.”

We can test robot empathy right here and now. Watch the video below and tell us… how does it make you feel?

[Image via: Vika Suh, Shutterstock]