Gladden, Matthew E. “The Social Robot as ‘Charismatic Leader’: A Phenomenology of Human Submission to Nonhuman Power.” In Sociable Robots and the Future of Social Relations: Proceedings of Robo-Philosophy 2014, edited by Johanna Seibt, Raul Hakli, and Marco Nørskov, pp. 329-39. Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Applications 273. IOS Press, 2014.
Abstract. Much has been written about the possibility of human trust in robots. In this article we consider a more specific relationship: that of a human follower’s obedience to a social robot who leads through the exercise of referent power and what Weber described as ‘charismatic authority.’ By studying robotic design efforts and literary depictions of robots, we suggest that human beings are striving to create charismatic robot leaders that will either (1) inspire us through their display of superior morality; (2) enthrall us through their possession of superhuman knowledge; or (3) seduce us with their romantic allure. Rejecting a contractarian-individualist approach which presumes that human beings will be able to consciously ‘choose’ particular robot leaders, we build on the phenomenological-social approach to trust in robots to argue that charismatic robot leaders will emerge naturally from our world’s social fabric, without any rational decision on our part. Finally, we argue that the stability of these leader-follower relations will hinge on a fundamental, unresolved question of robotic intelligence: is it possible for synthetic intelligences to exist that are morally, intellectually, and emotionally sophisticated enough to exercise charismatic authority over human beings—but not so sophisticated that they lose the desire to do so?