Out in the Open

Can a robot love you back?

Dr. Hooman Samani coined the term lovotics, the study of whether we can love robots...and whether robots can love us.
The lovotics robot has an artificial endocrine system that releases digital hormones, including oxytocin, the love hormone. (Dr. Hooman Samani )

Can you love your robot and can your robot love you back?

According to Dr. Hooman Samani the answer is yes and it is already happening.

Dr. Samani is the director of the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Technology Laboratory in Taiwan. He coined the terms lovotics — a combination of the words love and robotics — and studies 'bidirectional' love between robots and humans. 

He's developed a prototype called the lovotics robot. It doesn't look like much. It resembles a furry, white roomba. The difference is its sophisticated AI system that includes an artificial endocrine system (AES) with digital hormones, including oxytocin, often referred to as the love hormone. 

"When this robot interacts with people, level[s] of oxytocin in the robot, of course, in an artificial way, would also change gradually," says Dr. Samani. 

Dr. Hooman Samani with several of his creations, including the lovotics robot. (Dr. Hooman Samani)

Overtime, as exposure to a human increases, so does the level of oxytocin released in the robot.

So, not only does the lovotics robot adjust its digital hormone levels to external stimuli overtime, but the release of those digital hormones affect the robot's behaviour too. We then read those behaviours as certain emotions like happiness, jealousy and even love. 

"[The robot] can show certain levels of energy, or it can show certain levels of excitement, in their behaviour, and people start to understand those kinds of behaviours to [have a] certain emotion to them."

Figuring out whether you love your robot is easy. We'd just ask you, 'Do you love your robot?' But, how do we measure whether your robot loves you? 

Dr. Samani says that in our human-to-human relationships, if he wants to know whether your partner loves you, he's going to ask you whether you feel loved by your partner. 

Same goes for the bidirectional love between humans and robots.

"Basically a robot is a piece of machine. So, we don't care about the feedback directed from the robot. We care about, does the robot give the feeling to the person that the robot loves me?" says Dr. Samani

​"We can say, "I love my robot due to certain feelings that I have,' And [the] second part, 'I do believe that my robot shows certain elements to me that I believe that I am being loved by the robot.'"

This story originally aired on October 29, 2017. It appears in the Out in the Open episode "Can Robots Be Human?".