There might also be an aspect of control too. "Modeling our behaviors, emotions, and thought processes in robots also helps us to get a glimpse of the mechanisms that govern our own lives," Libin says.
But beyond the novelty and the intrigue, there's also the idea that we might feel a real connection with robots -- could they be man's new best friend? That's the murkiest notion to pin down. "The main concept here is attachment," Libin explains. "We like emotional responses... if a robot responds with the smile or a gesture that is recognized as friendly, we respond the same way as if it were a person; an actual human being."
Two researchers, Reeves and Nass, found that humans dealing with computers relate to the technology in the same way as they do other people. But trying to tweeze out the extent to which we might feel empathy with robots, or even deep companionship perhaps, is still a challenge.
Attachment, empathy, sensation seeking and engagement are the many varied qualities in humans that shape our relationships with robots, Libin says. Robots contribute to that relationship through their independence and emotionally interactive designs. Unsurprisingly, facing all these variables our attitudes are hardly uniform: "Our response to robots depends not only on how the design is, or how interactive the robot is, but also originates in our personal histories," Libin explains. Bad experiences with technology, or the kinds of cultures we come from, can shape the way we feel about automatons.