Various emerging technologies, from social robotics to social media, appeal to our desire for social interactions, while avoiding some of the risks and costs of face-to-face human interaction. But can they offer us real friendship? In this book, Alexis Elder outlines a theory of friendship drawing on Aristotle and contemporary work on social ontology, and then uses it to evaluate the real value of social robotics and emerging social technologies.
In the first part of the book Elder develops a robust and rigorous ontology of friendship: what it is, how it functions, what harms it, and how it relates to familiar ethical and philosophical questions about character, value, and well-being. In Part II she applies this ontology to emerging trends in social robotics and human-robot interaction, including robotic companions for lonely seniors, therapeutic robots used to teach social skills to children on the autism spectrum, and companionate robots currently being developed for consumer markets. Elder articulates the moral hazards presented by these robots, while at the same time acknowledging their real and measurable benefits. In the final section she shifts her focus to connections between real people, especially those enabled by social media. Arguing against critics who have charged that these new communication technologies are weakening our social connections, Elder explores ways in which text messaging, video chats, Facebook, and Snapchat are enabling us to develop, sustain, and enrich our friendship in new and meaningful ways.