What is it like to be a robot? Natural empathy, artificial companions, and vulnerability mirroring

Mark Coeckelbergh

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic


Can robots become companions, and if so, what are the necessary conditions and what are the ethical issues that might arise in human-robot companionship relations? I argue that the possibility and future of robots as companions depends (among other things) on the robot's capacity to be a recipient of human empathy and that a necessary condition for this to happen is that the robot mirrors human vulnerabilities. For the purpose of these arguments, I make a distinction between empathy-as-cognition and empathy-as-feeling, connecting the latter to the moral sentiment tradition and its concept of 'fellow feeling'. Furthermore, I show that we might have the intuition that vulnerability mirroring raises the ethical issue of deception, but that given contemporary technological developments we cannot justify the underlying assumption that artificial vulnerability is less real (and less significant or valuable) than natural vulnerability. On reflection, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a strict conceptual distinction between artificial and natural. I conclude that if we want to hold on to the deception argument, we need a convincing answer to these objections
Original languageUndefined
Publication statusPublished - 2010
EventCOGS research seminars - Pevensey
Duration: 26 Jan 201026 Jan 2010


ConferenceCOGS research seminars
Other26 January 2010


  • IR-76188

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