, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 23–31 | Cite as

Creating “companions” for children: the ethics of designing esthetic features for robots

  • Yvette PearsonEmail author
  • Jason Borenstein
Original Article


Taking the term “companion” in a broad sense to include robot caregivers, playmates, assistive devices, and toys, we examine ethical issues that emerge from designing companion robots for children. We focus on the relative importance and potential ethical implications of creating robots with certain types of esthetic features. We include an examination of whether robots ought to be made to appear or act humanlike, and whether robots should be gendered. In our estimation, this line of ethical inquiry may even provide insight into the nature and appropriateness of existing institutions and widely accepted interactions among human beings.


Robot ethics Robot companions Design ethics Gender Human–robot interaction Children 


  1. Banks MR, Willoughby LM, Banks WA (2008) Animal-assisted therapy and loneliness in nursing homes: use of robotic versus living dogs. J Am Med Dir Assoc 9(3):173–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bartneck C, Kanda T, Ishiguro H, Hagita N (2009) My robot doppelganger: a critical look at the uncanny valley. Robot and Human Interactive Communication RO-MANGoogle Scholar
  3. Belpaeme T, Morse A (2010) Time will tell—why it is too early to worry. Interact Stud 11(2):191–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Borenstein J, Pearson Y (2010) Robot caregivers: harbingers of expanded freedom for all? Ethics Inf Technol 12(3):277–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Breazeal C (2002) Designing sociable robots. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown WM, Price ME, Kang J, Pound N, Zhao Y, Yu H (2008) Fluctuating asymmetry and preferences for sex-typical bodily characteristics. PNAS 105(35):12938–43Google Scholar
  7. Capurro R (2009) Ethics and robotics. In: Nagenborg M, Capurro R (eds) Ethics and robotics. IOS Press, Heidelberg, pp 117–123Google Scholar
  8. Carpenter J, Davis JM, Erwin-Stewart N, Lee TR, Bransford JD, Vye N (2009) Gender representation and humanoid robots designed for domestic use. Int J Soc Robot 1:261–265Google Scholar
  9. Ceceri K (2011) My Keepon dances into stores in October! Wired Magazine. Accessed 9 Oct 2011
  10. Coeckelbergh M (2011) Humans, animals, and robots: a phenomenological approach to human–robot relations. Int J Soc Rob 3(2):197–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Crowell CR, Scheutz M, Schemerhorn P, Villano M (2009) Gendered voice and robotic entities: perceptions and reactions of male and female subjects. In: IEEE/RSJ international conference on intelligent robots and systems (October), pp 3735–41Google Scholar
  12. De Angeli A, Brahnam S (2006) Sex stereotypes and conversational agents. In: Proceedings of the AVI 2006 workshop on gender and interaction: real and virtual women in a male world, Venice, Italy. Accessed 30 May 2012
  13. Eyssel F, Kuchenbrandt D, Bobinger S, de Ruiter L, Hegel F (2012) ‘If You Sound Like Me, you Must Be More Human’: on the interplay of robot and user features on human–robot acceptance and anthropomorphism HRI’12. In: Proceedings of the 7th annual ACM/IEEE international conference on human–robot interaction pages (March), pp 125–26Google Scholar
  14. Feil-Seifer D, Mataric MJ (2011) Socially assistive robotics: ethical issues related to technology. IEEE Rob Autom 18(1):24–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fine C (2010) Delusions of gender: how our minds, society, and neurosexism create a difference. W W Norton and Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  16. Fior M, Nugent S, Beran TN, Ramirez-Serrano A, Kuzyk R (2010) Children’s relationships with robots: robot is child’s new friend. J Phys Agents 4(3):9–17Google Scholar
  17. Goetz J, Kiesler S, Powers A (2003) Matching robot appearance and behavior to tasks to improve human–robot cooperation. In: Proceedings of the 12th IEEE international workshop on robot and human interactive communication (RO-MAN 2003). Milbrae, pp 55–60Google Scholar
  18. Green VA, Bigler R, Catherwood D (2004) The variability and flexibility of gender-typed toy play: a close look at children’s behavioral responses to counterstereotypic models. Sex Roles 51(7–8):371–386CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Halpern D, Katz JE (2012) Unveiling robotophobia and cyber-dystopianism: the role of gender, technology and religion on attitudes towards robots HRI’12. In: Proceedings of the 7th annual ACM/IEEE international conference on human–robot interaction pages (March), pp 139–140Google Scholar
  20. Hanson D, Olney A, Prilliman S, Mathews E, Zielke M, Hammons D, Fernandez R, Stephanou H (2005) Upending the uncanny valley. In: Cohn A (ed) Proceedings of the 20th national conference on artificial intelligence 4 (AAAI’05). AAAI Press, pp 1728–29Google Scholar
  21. Hausman BL (1995) Changing sex: transsexualism, technology, and the idea of gender. Duke University Press, DurhamGoogle Scholar
  22. Ho C–C, MacDorman KF, Dwi Pramono ZAD (2008) Human emotion and the uncanny valley: a GLM, MDS, and Isomap analysis of robot video ratings. In: Proceedings of the 3rd ACM/IEEE international conference on human robot interaction (HRI ‘08). ACM, New York, pp 169–176Google Scholar
  23. International Federation of Robotics (IFR) (2011a) Positive impact of industrial robots on employment. Accessed 18 June 2012
  24. International Federation of Robotics (IFR) (2011b) World robotics 2011 (executive summary). Accessed 31 May 2012
  25. Kaplan F (2004) Who is afraid of the humanoid? Investigating cultural differences in the acceptance of robots. Int J Humanoid Rob 1(3):1–16Google Scholar
  26. MacDorman KF, Ishiguro H (2006) The uncanny advantage of using androids in social and cognitive science research. Interact Stud 7(3):297–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. MacDorman KF, Vasudevan SK, Ho C (2009) Does Japan really have robot mania? Comparing attitudes by implicit and explicit measures. AI & Soc 23(4):485–510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Melson GF (2010) Child development robots: social forces, children’s perspectives. Interact Stud 11(2):227–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mitchell WJ, Szerszen KA, Lu AS, Schermerhorn PW, Scheutz M, MacDorman KF (2011) A mismatch in the human realism of face and voice produces an uncanny valley. i-Perception 2(1):10–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mondada F, Bonani M, Raemy X, Pugh J, Cianci C, Klaptocz A, Magnenat S, Zufferey J-C, Floreano D, Martinoli A (2009) The e-puck, a robot designed for education in engineering. In: Proceedings of the 9th conference on autonomous robot systems and competitions, vol 1, no 1, pp 59–65Google Scholar
  31. Mori M (2012) The uncanny valley (KF MacDorman and N Kageki, Trans.) IEEE Robotics and Automation, 19(2):98–100 (Original work published in 1970). doi: 10.1109/MRA.2012.2192811. Accessed 18 June 2012
  32. Nass C, Yen C (2010) The man who lied to his laptop: what machines teach us about human relationships. Penguin Group, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  33. Nishida T (2009) Towards robots with good will. In: Capurro R, Nagenborg M (eds) Ethics and robotics. IOS Press, Heidelberg, pp 105–116Google Scholar
  34. Nomura T, Tagaki S (2011) Exploring effects of educational backgrounds and gender in human robot interaction. In: International conference on user science and engineering (i-USEr), pp 24–29Google Scholar
  35. Parks JA (2010) Lifting the burden of women’s care work: should robots replace the human touch? Hypatia 25(1):100–120Google Scholar
  36. Prazak B, Kronreif G, Hochgatterer A, Furst M (2004) A toy robot for physically disabled children. Technol Disabil 16:131–136Google Scholar
  37. Reber R, Schwarz N, Winkielman P (2004) Processing fluency and aesthetic pleasure: is beauty in the perceiver’s processing experience. Pers Soc Psychol Rev 8(4):364–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Richey S (2010) The impact of anti-assimilationist beliefs on attitudes toward immigration. Int Stud Q 54:197–212Google Scholar
  39. Robertson J (2010) Gendering humanoid robots: robo-sexism in Japan. Body Soc 16(2):1–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Salter T, Werry I, Michaud F (2008) Going into the wild in child–robot interaction studies: issues in social robotic development. Intel Serv Robot 1(2):93–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sharkey N, Sharkey A (2010) The crying shame of robot nannies: an ethical appraisal. Interact Stud 11(2):161–190CrossRefMathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  42. Siegel M, Breazeal C, Norton MI (2009) Persuasive robotics: the influence of robot gender on human behavior. In: IEEE/RSJ international conference on intelligent robots and systems, pp 2563–68Google Scholar
  43. Tucker A (2009) Robot babies. Smithsonian Magazine (July): 56–65. Accessed 8 Oct 2011
  44. Turkle S (2006) A nascent robotics culture: new complicities for companionship. AAAI technical report series (July)Google Scholar
  45. Wagner C (2009) ‘The Japanese way of robotics’: interacting ‘naturally’ with robots as a national character? In: The 18th IEEE international symposium on robot and human interactive communication (September), pp 510–515Google Scholar
  46. Walters ML, Syrdal S, Dautenhahn K, Boekhorst R, Koay KL (2008) Avoiding the uncanny valley: robot appearance, personality, and consistency of behavior in an attention-seeking home scenario for a robot companion. Auton Robot 24:159–178Google Scholar
  47. Whitehouse D (2005) Japanese develop ‘female’ android. BBC News, July 27, Accessed 5 May 2012
  48. Woods S, Dautenhahn K, Schulz J (2006) Exploring the design of space robots: children’s perspectives. Interact Comput 18(5–6):1390–1418CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Institute for Ethics and Public AffairsOld Dominion UniversityNorfolkUSA
  2. 2.School of Public PolicyGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations