Companion robots may radically change the way we interact with one another and it probably won't be for the better. Already, people worry about how technology isolates people from one another. This would make the situation catastrophically worse.
Many experts say in the future, robots could be better caretakers for the elderly, because they could be programmed with endless patience, and would never be abusive, inept or dishonest.
But Turkle worries about this drive to replace human caretakers with robots. [5 Reasons to Fear Robots]
"Its not just that older people are supposed to be talking. Younger people are supposed to be listening," she said. "We are showing very little interest in what our elders have to say. We are building the machines that will literally let their stories fall on deaf ears."
What does it say about us if we use robots to avoid taking care of each other?
"If you give me a robot that helps perform mundane tasks associated with caregiving, such as vacuuming or doing the dishes, I'm all for that," says Dr. Thomas, founder of the Green House Project, a campaign to make nursing homes smaller and more like regular houses. But "if we wind up with nursing homes full of baby-seal robots, the robots will be trying to fulfill the relationship piece of caregiving, while the humans are running around changing the beds and cooking the food."
But not everyone is worried about becoming friends with robots. Already, Paro and other social robots are fulfilling a real need.
Aides also take Paro to residents' rooms to get them to socialize. At another Vincentian home, Lois Simmeth, 73, doesn't always participate in group activities, but she ventures into the hall when she hears Paro's sounds.
"I love animals," explains Ms. Simmeth. She whispered to the robot in her lap: "I know you're not real, but somehow, I don't know, I love you."