Dr. Kate Darling is a leading expert in Robot Ethics, as well as a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. Kate investigates social robotics and conducts experimental studies on human-robot interaction. Kate Darling explores the emotional connection between people and life-like machines, seeking to influence technology design and policy direction. Her writing and research anticipate difficult questions that lawmakers, engineers, and the wider public will need to address as human-robot relationships evolve in the coming decades. Kate Darling has a background in law & economics and intellectual property, having graduated from law school with honors and holds a doctorate of sciences from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich). She currently serves as intellectual property policy advisor to the director of the MIT Media Lab. Kate Darling used to also co-teach a robot ethics course at Harvard Law School with Professor Lawrence Lessig, and she now increasingly works at the intersection of law and robotics, with a focus on legal and social issues. Kate is a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the Yale Information Society Project, and is also an affiliate at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Kate’s work has appeared in popular publications such as Vogue, The New Yorker, The Guardian, BBC, NPR, PBS, The Boston Globe, Forbes, CBC, WIRED, Boston Magazine, The Atlantic, The Japan Times, and more. Perhaps most awesomely, Kate also looks after several domestic robots, including her twin Pleos; Yochai and Peter. I first came into contact with Kate Darling, when I listened to her fascinating conversation with Sam Harris; and I knew I needed to talk books with her. Please enjoy my interview with Kate Darling…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I am a Researcher.
I’m currently reading Expecting Better by Emily Oster.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
My first word was “book”! I learned to read pretty young, when I was 3, but my earliest memory is probably later: reading a Berenstain Bears book out loud to my parents.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
What age? I don’t know if it still holds up, but Girl Goddess #9 by Francesca Lia Block is a beautiful and weird little collection of short stories that had a huge positive impact on me when I was a young teen.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
I sold popcorn in a movie theatre. It was only the “worst” because the customers were sometimes mean. Once, a man was so outraged by the concession stand prices that he threw his popcorn all over me. Other than that it wasn’t a bad job.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
Not even close.
If a complete novice was looking to read just three books as an introduction to A.I., which three would you recommend?
I would recommend the following:
Many! For example, some books that I read multiple times as a young adult when I was starting to become fascinated with various forms of government and society were The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin, Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, and the Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
The book I’ve recommended the most is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
Science Fiction and classic German literature.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
Even though I love books, I would hope we could use or get creative with other media formats and the world would be fine.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
I’ll read anything written by Max Frisch.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
Yes, but it will take a while.
What book do you feel humanity needs right now?
Given your expertise in A.I., what do you believe the technological aspect of our world will look like in 10, 25 and 50 years?
I believe we’re entering into an era of human-robot interaction as we increasingly integrate AI and robots into our lives. That said, predictions are hard! There’s a lot of media hype and I think people currently overestimate what AI is capable of, but who knows where we’ll be in 50 years.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. It’s related to my research interests and I reference it constantly.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
So many. Come over and peruse my bookshelves.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I’m pregnant, so I expect to read a lot of parenting books, and of course Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
Mistress of Machines.