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I think I’m not alone in saying I have friends who drive me crazy. (Of course, I think I drive them more crazy.) So when I heard about the idea of “social robots” I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to have one as a friend.

According to an article by Robin Marantz Henig The Real Transformers (7/29/07 New York Times):

Sociable robots come equipped with the very abilities that humans have evolved to ease our interactions with one another: eye contact, gaze direction, turn-taking, shared attention. They are programmed to learn the way humans learn, by starting with a core of basic drives and abilities and adding to them as their physical and social experiences accrue. People respond to the robots’ social cues almost without thinking, and as a result the robots give the impression of being somehow, improbably, alive.

Eye contact. Paying attention. Turn taking. All that sounds pretty good to me!

Have you ever been with someone when you see their eyes wander and you know at that moment they’re not really hearing what you’re saying and not even in the same room mentally? My robot would never do that. Or what about people who just can’t look you in the eyes no matter how sincere and animated the conversation? My socialized robot would never do that. He’d look me in the eyes, head turned slightly with a gentle smile to show support and understanding – and maybe even programmed to blink every once in a while.

And what about people who talk for hours on end about themselves and then…almost as an afterthought…ask “Oh…and how are you?” My robot would never do that! He’d know to take turns. And he’d even be able to give me social cues that let me know he’s listening and cares.

Hmmm…this is starting to sound more and more like the perfect mate.

Now you may be thinking…that’s just plain stupid. A mate does so much more than a ever robot could. Well…yes. But one day, you’ll probably be able to program a robot to cook, take out the garbage, vacuum, dust, laugh at your jokes, commiserate with your sadness, play games with you (and let you win 2/3 of the time just to make it fun), keep you company while exercising, play your favorite songs, movies and YouTube vids, make you laugh when you’re sad, and even give you a hug when you need one – for as long as you need one.

Not a bad trade-off when you really think about it. Especially on those days when your special someone REALLY ticks you off. And at the very least, you’d have your head-nodding, attentive-eyed robot to complain to – probably as that special someone and his own robot try to come up with ways to get even!