The uselessness principle

Free creatures: The role of uselessness in the design of artificial pets by Frédéric Kaplan is a very relevant short paper, which postulates that the success of the existing artificial pets relies on the fact that they are useless.

Frédéric starts by explaining that the difference between an artificial pet and robotic application is that nobody takes it seriously when an AIBO falls, it's rather entertaining.

Paradoxically, these creatures are not designed to respect Asimov’s second law of robotics : ‘A robot must obey a human beings’ orders’. They are designed to have autonomous goals, to simulate autonomous feelings. (...) One way of showing that the pet is a free creature is to allow it to refuse the order of its owner. In our daily use of language, we tend to attribute intentions to devices that are not doing their job well.

What is very interesting in the paper is that the author states that giving the robot this apparent autonomy is a necessary (but not sufficient) feature for the development of a relationship with its owner(s).

Then comes from the uselessness principle:

The creature should always act as if driven by its own goals. However, an additionnal dynamics should ensure that the behavior of the pet is interesting for its owner. It is not because an artificial creature does not perform a useful task that it can not be evaluated. Evaluation should be done on the basis of the subjective interest of the users with the pet. This can be measured in a very precise way using the time that the user is actually spending with the pet. (...) be designed as free ‘not functional’ creatures.

Why do I blog this? first because I am more and more digging into human-robot interaction research since I feel the interesting convergence between robotics and pervasive computing (that may eventually lead to a new category of objects a la Nabaztag). Second, because I am cobbling some notes for different projects for the Near Future Laboratory (pets, geoware).