Is Robot Empathy a Trap?

Scientists explore what robot-human intimacy could mean for love, work, communication, and even war.

Can robots care? And why should we care if they do? SAPIENS host Jen Shannon meets Pepper the robot, and host Chip Colwell goes on a quest to find out how the robotics industry is (re)shaping intimacy in Japan. He speaks with anthropologists Jennifer Robertson, Daniel White, and Hirofumi Katsuno, all researchers who investigate the field of robotics, to learn more about what artificial emotion can teach us about what it means to be human.



  • Jennifer Robertson is a professor of anthropology and of the history of art at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
  • Hirofumi Katsuno is an associate professor in the department of media, journalism, and communications at Doshisha University, Kyoto.
  • Daniel White is a postdoctoral fellow in the department of history and cultural studies at the Freie Universität Berlin.

Read the companion article here, and learn more about artificial intelligence at SAPIENS:

Our theme song and music for this episode are by Matthew Simonson.

Special thanks to composer Scott Ampleford for use of the original score from 2026: Musik Inspired by Metropolis, which was featured in this episode.

SAPIENS is part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library.

Read a transcript of this episode here.