Some years ago my parents got themselves a robotic vacuum cleaner iRobot Roomba. They immediately gave it a name - Vasya. Sometimes Vasya would get stuck, and sometimes he would start sneezing out all the dust he had collected, and they thought it was cute and gladly told stories about Vasya. And studies show that when people turn in their broken robotic vacuum cleaners to a repair shop, the prefer not to have them replaced but rather repaired.
We do get emotionally attached to things. The day we decided to sell our motorcycle was a sad day because of that emotional attachment. All that feelings came up: the excitement of the first decision to buy, picking a model and a color, waiting for the delivery, seeing it for the first time, driving it for the first time. And the decision of selling if was simply because of that guilt that i don't have enough time to drive it and it deserves a better owner.
Attachment to intelligent things can be stronger. Our little Nao, for example. He came to us in 2009, worked and traveled with us, learned new things, and, last year, he actually moved out and now he lives with his new family in Gothenburg. And I must say that when I got to see a video of him traveling by train i get this warm feeling that everything is fine with him.
But what about things that don't resemble a living creature? We used to kick our misbehaving printers, TV-sets (before the era of flat screens at least) and computers. At least i never got hard feelings when watching the "printer scene" from Office Space over and over again.
We fell empathy and get emotionally attached to things for different reasons:
- Something resembles a living creature (works with toys as well)
- Something exhibits an intellect similar to a living creature (in this case the thing does not necessarily need to look like one).
- We have memories connected to the things (such as traveling together with your bike)
A combination of these certainly makes the case stronger. Boston Dynamics, for example, build humanoids and animal-looking robots that not only move in a way living creatures do, but also act with an intellect, and a purpose, such as rescuing people from fire. People find the situation adorable and react as if these were living creatures interacting with each other (see youtube comments).
Would people ever like to hurt such intelligent creatures? What feelings do you get when watching the poor things getting abused? This is for sure a necessary evil, such as experiments on rats in medical tests. I have no idea how the coming generations will see such things. I can only hope that there is a shift into treating all things with respect, the similar way you treat a living creature.