ACCENT Madrid: Coffee, Robots, and the Uncanny Valley

Today’s post comes from ACCENT Madrid Programs Coordinator Ana Hernández, who describes a particularly thought-provoking visit to Espacio Fundación Telefónica, where students wrestled with questions of ethics in artificial intelligence.

Every second week of the month, ACCENT Madrid holds its famous Coffee House, an evening during which students are invited to share their experiences with our staff and other students while enjoying a warm cup of coffee and exploring local galleries.

This spring, students got the chance to visit Espacio Fundación Telefónica, a multipurpose facility that holds exhibits related to the world of telecommunications and the intersection between art and technology. Although this gallery might go unnoticed, it was once the first skyscraper in Europe and constituted Hemingway’s working space during the Spanish Civil War.This time, the students saw an exhibit about robots and artificial intelligence and were challenged with questions such as: can robots think independently? Do they feel emotions? Should they pay taxes for performing jobs? Excellent food for thought that left the students fascinated. With every turn into a different room there was a surprise: a model of a prototype robot created by Da Vinci, a robot created at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid where our students take classes, a replica of Star Wars‘ R2D2, and even human-like robots.

The human-like robots triggered a wide variety of emotions in the students, who felt immediately repelled but at the same time intrigued: a perfectly normal reaction according to the hypothesis of the uncanny valley, which states that humans feel affinity for robots that look like humans but the moment that they look too similar, they cause repulsion. This controversial hypothesis sparks another deep question: will we be able to coexist with robots in a peaceful manner? The students left the gallery with these thoughts; two hours had just flown by and it was time to have dinner.

~Ana Hernández, ACCENT Madrid

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