Beki Grinter

Today I friended a robot on Facebook

In research, social media on October 13, 2010 at 11:51 am

A few days ago I received a friend request from Kuka Youbot (not a page, group, and you don’t fan it, it has an account).

Its the first time I’ve had to decide whether to friend a machine on facebook, and I was not sure what to do.

I do not friend people I do not know on Facebook. I have declined requests. Before I decline requests I typically review the person’s information, usually looking for shared friends. That sometimes causes me to realise that there is a possibility that I actually do know the person. This has been most pronounced with people who have changed their names, and this is most common among my female acquaintances who have subsequently married. In just a few cases I have asked our potentially mutual friends who a particular person is, I am constantly impressed how good some people are at recognising a person from an image of them that is twenty years older than when I knew the person face-to-face.

Almost all my Facebook friends are people that I have at one point in my life known as face-to-face friends. Some of my Facebook friends go back as far as kindergarten through all the school and employment affiliations that I’ve had. There are exceptions. I am friends with one English ex-patriate that followed a very similar path (source to destination). I am friends with a family historian who has identified that part of his family and part of mine are connected. We are distant relatives.

I have a policy regarding students. I am happy to friend any graduate/undergraduate who asks me, but I will not ask them. This reflects the power-relation of the environment that we share. I am happy if they feel comfortable being connected to me and reading the random things I post but I can also imagine a degree of discomfort being “forced” to connect to a faculty member when they would prefer to keep what they post to Facebook private from faculty.

I decided to friend the robot. I decided to because it has mutual friends, two of my colleagues in the School of Interactive Computing and the Robotics and Intelligent Machines center. I decided that if the Youbot was something that they would friend, then I would too. They became a recommendation of sorts for making a decision about friending the robot. And since they’re both roboticists I am sure that they have good criteria for selecting which robots to friend and which not.

And it likes that I’ve friended it. How friendly. It also wants to know whether I’m going to IROS and wishes me a happy weekend.


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