In spite of all temptations, I diligently continued with the first Christmas gift, a sweater vest in Capretta.

Beautiful stitch definition, eh?

While knitting, I mused on social skills. A recent study found that people behave empathically toward robots whether they have been programmed to have good social skills or not.

Now, the programming for good social skills included telling jokes and personal anecdotes. I am not certain that this counts as good social skills.

But when robots asked not to be turned off, sometimes sharing that they were afraid they would be left alone in the dark forever, humans had trouble shutting them off. Researchers were replicating an earlier study which hadn’t attempted to give any of the robots social skills. They programmed some of the robots to have good social skills, to make friends with the humans ahead of time.The control group had no special programming, like the earlier study.

The recent study found that people were just as susceptible to robot wheedling whether said robots had told them jokes or not

But think about it. We are affectionate toward our cats even though they have little in the way of social skills.

We love babies long before they can tell us jokes, before they are even aware of the existence of other people.

I am besotted with this little munchkin, even though she can’t talk at all and often looks around with this empty-headed expression.

So how important are social skills? We have empathy and compassion because of what we are, perhaps, rather than because of what the objects of our compassion are. That’s got to be adaptive, if only because of babies.

Is it adaptive to become fond of our cars, phones, and random robots? If we are kind to Alexa, is that good for us in some way?

If we reject our natural empathy and behave coldly toward Alexa, will that damage us and thus be maladaptive? I kind of worry about that, more than the whole evel robot overlord thing. In the past, our species has rejected empathy toward people whom we perceived as too different from us to count. That was clearly bad for us.

Perhaps it’s good that we are empathic regardless of the level of social skill commanded by the object of our empathy.