Radio Replay: I, Robot Podcast

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For my podcast assignment I decided to listen to NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast series, which uses science, medicine and storytelling to help curious people understand the world and themselves. Shankar Vedantam is the host of this podcast where he unfolds patterns that drive human behavior, biases that shape our choices, and triggers that direct the course of many of our relationships.

This episode Radio Replay: I, Robot stood out to me among the others because I found it to be very relatable and provide listeners with real life examples. In particular I enjoyed listening to Seth Stephens-Davidowitz who was a former data scientist at Google, and through his Google searches he was able to measure topics like biases in gender and diagnosing illnesses through Google search patterns. He brought up a valuable point by stating finding data through surveys may not be accurate because people tend to lie, instead he realized an alternative way to finding out this data would be from analyzing Google searches. One example that he brought up was that parents will say that they treat their children equally. But through the Google searches he read by parents, he noticed the exact opposite. Seth noticed that when parents searched questions about their sons they would use words like “Is my son genius or gifted,” and for their daughters “Is my daughter overweight and/or ugly.” As a result, through these Google searches he found that in fact parents are bias of their children and are more focused on the intellectual potential of their sons, while concerned with the physical appearances of their daughters.

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/577622555/577666380 (20:05-22:50)

Google search patterns that can lead to Pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

We also hear from Kate Darling who is a research specialist that investigates our interactions with robots through experiments on human-robot interactions. In these experiments she explores the emotional connections between people and life-like machines. She specifically talks about a Pleo robotic dinosaur that is touch sensitive and includes both a camera and microphone, and ultimately acts and reacts just like a human. Kate conducted an experiment where she did a workshop with 5 of these robotic dinosaurs and had people give them a name and interact with them for an hour, and at the end of this session she asked them to torture and kill them. Through this experience she found that because these robots act like a human and respond to getting hurt people hesitated and would not “kill” these robots. In other words, the way we interact with these machines say something about who we are. The way people treat robots may have implications in similar ways of how we treat other humans.


In conclusion, this podcast kept me engaged the entire episode and brought up many interesting points. I decided to blog about this podcast because after looking on ITunes I felt that as students we can closely relate to this episode, especially since in our generation we use technology for basically everything.

-Rachel Stasolla




One comment

  1. I find the part of Google search patterns that can lead to Pancreatic cancer diagnosis since I can see both sides. I understand how people would not want Google telling them that what they have been searching could lead to Pancreatic cancer because its kind of an invasion of privacy. On the other hand, this could save some people. It is an interesting debate.

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