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Social Robots, fiction, and sentimentality

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I examine the nature of human-robot pet relations that appear to involve genuine affective responses on behalf of humans towards entities, such as robot pets, that, on the face of it, do not seem to be deserving of these responses. Such relations have often been thought to involve a certain degree of sentimentality, the morality of which has in turn been the object of critical attention (Sparrow in Ethics Inf Technol 78:346–359, 2002; Blackford in Ethics Inf Technol 14:41–51, 2012). In this paper, I dispel the claim that sentimentality is involved in this type of relations. My challenge draws on literature in the philosophy of art and in cognitive science that attempts to solve the so called paradox of fictional emotions, i.e., the seemingly paradoxical way in which we respond emotionally to fictional or imaginary characters and events. If sentimentality were not at issue, neither would its immorality. For the sake of argument, however, I assume in the remaining part of the paper that sentimentality is indeed at play and bring to the fore aspects of its badness or viciousness that have not yet been discussed in connection with robot pets. I conclude that not even these aspects of sentimentality are at issue here. Yet, I argue that there are other reasons to be worried about the wide-spread use of ersatz companionship technology that have to do with the potential loss of valuable, self-defining forms of life.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEthics and Information Technology
Pages (from-to)257–268
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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