Questions for ‘Can a robot ever become your friend?’ 

Three droids, BB-8, C-3PO and R2-D2 on a stage

In the Star Wars movies, droids BB-8, C-3PO and R2-D2 not only have distinct personalities, but also can converse and seem to form friendships with humans. Real robots can’t do that — at least not yet.

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Stringer/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

To accompany Can a robot ever become your friend?


Before Reading:

  1. Imagine you have a robot friend. What might you and your robot do together? Would you prefer your robot to look like a human or something else altogether? How big would you want your robot to be? Draw a picture of what comes to mind when you think of a robot friend. What is one ability that you would not want your robot to have?
  2. Pick one of your favorite robots from science fiction. What do you like about this robot? If given the chance, would you like to hang out with this robot? Explain why or why not.

During Reading:

  1. What can some fictional robots, such as R2-D2, do that today’s real-life robots cannot?
  2. What does HRI stand for? How are HRI researchers hoping to improve upon today’s robots?
  3. Describe the appearance of the robot called Paro. Give one example of a place where Paro might be helpful. 
  4. How does the robot MiRo-E respond when spoken to in a loud, angry voice? According to Sebastian Conrad, what is this robot’s “real goal”?
  5. With what skills does Moxie help kids learn? Describe Moxie’s appearance.
  6. What concerns does Paolo Pirjanian have about Moxie’s ability to mimic human emotion?
  7. What is the name of the robot created by Alexis E. Block? Block says making a robot that can give hugs was much more challenging than she initially thought. Give one example of an ability this robot must have to hug someone.
  8. How many different laughs were recorded for the robot called “Erica”? Describe a style of laughter that will probably inspire Erica to laugh along with you.
  9. In what way might some folks forming a relationship with robots be a problem?
  10. How might social robots help neurodivergent people?

After Reading:

  1. What does Pirjanian mean when, in talking about Moxie, he says, “We are successful when a child no longer needs Moxie”? Imagine a shy student becoming so attached to Moxie that she rarely leaves her room and calls the robot her “only friend.” What problems might this attachment cause for the student over the next year? To what extent might this attachment have long-lasting impacts on the student? What advice would you give this student if you wanted to help her? Besides giving advice, what else could you do to help this student?
  2. Imagine a world where humans can build robots that think and feel just like humans. First, come up with one job you would be okay with a human-like robot taking over. Then come up with one job you would not be okay with a robot taking over. Finally, describe a problem that might arise in a world where a robot does this job.
  3. Which robot from this story do you think would be the most helpful? Briefly explain your answer.