A couple of years ago, for example, a research specialist named Kate Darling at the prestigious MIT Media Lab ran a workshop in Switzerland with a collaborator, Hannes Gassert. They divided people into groups, gave each group a little robotic dinosaur called a Pleo, and asked them to dress their bots up with construction paper and pipe cleaners. Then they held a robo-saurus fashion show. Oh, how precious it was! People grew attached to their Pleos quite quickly. Everyone loved pampering and personalizing their Pleo, and making their Pleo look its best.
After the fashion show, Darling and Gassert sent everyone out for a coffee break. When the participants came back, they were told their Pleos had been misbehaving and needed to be punished. The roomful of Pleo-lovers recoiled. A few people wagged fingers at the Pleos and sort of scolded them in a cutesy way. “But we were like, no,” Darling tells me. “Corporal punishment.” They said you need to beat the Pleos; kick the Pleos; hurt them, badly.
Pleos, it should be mentioned, are downright adorable and will struggle or whimper or hang their big-eyed dinosaur heads glumly when neglected or harmed. For a long while, no one in the room could bring themselves to lay a hand on their Pleo. Gradually, Darling says, “a few people would just tap the Pleos feebly, hoping that would satisfy us.” But it did not satisfy them. It did not satisfy them at all. And so they escalated the situation, announcing they were going to kill all the Pleos themselves—but first offering each group a chance to save its beloved Pleo by murdering another group's. Then Darling and Gassert took out a hatchet.
Pictured: scientist and her victim