“Pepper” by kirainet is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Are friends electric? The benefits and risks of human-robot relationships

Tony J. Prescott and Julie M. Robillard


Social robots that can interact and communicate with people are growing in popularity for use at home and in customer-service, education, and healthcare settings. Although growing evidence suggests that co-operative and emotionally aligned social robots could benefit users across the lifespan, controversy continues about the ethical implications of these devices and their potential harms. In this perspective, we explore this balance between benefit and risk through the lens of human-robot relationships. We review the definitions and purposes of social robots, explore their philosophical and psychological status, and relate research on human-human and human-animal relationships to the emerging literature on human-robot relationships. Advocating a relational rather than essentialist view, we consider the balance of benefits and harms that can arise from different types of relationship with social robots and conclude by considering the role of researchers in understanding the ethical and societal impacts of social robotics.


Prescott, Tony & Robillard, Julie. (2020). Are Friends Electric? The Benefits and Risks of Human-Robot Relationships. iScience. 24. 101993. 10.1016/j.isci.2020.101993.

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