As a law student in Switzerland, Kate Darling’s interest in robots was just a hobby. She had purchased a PLEO robot dinosaur that was designed to respond to human contact emotionally and act independently. “It really struck me that I responded to the cues the robot was giving me, even though I knew exactly how the toy worked,” Darling says. “I knew where all the motors were and how it worked, and why it would cry when you held it up by the tail, but I was just so compelled to comfort it and make it stop crying.”
Years later, while on assignment at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she began talking to roboticists who were developing artificial intelligence and realized they weren’t approaching development from the policy and social sciences perspective that came so naturally to her. She discovered a small community of like-minded people concerned with the ethical implications of social robot development and began taking psychology classes at Harvard so she could start leading experiments to study human-robot interaction.