About a quarter of people haven't ruled out the idea of dating a robot, according to a new survey, and the Dutch are the most accepting of the idea of artificial amour.

Researchers from the University of Twente used data from the EU-backed SIENNA project that studies ethics and opinions surrounding cutting edge technology.

About 1,700 mostly university students between 12 and 16 were asked, based on their answers to sociological questions about their notions around meeting and dating an electronic version of themselves.

"For example, if it later turns out that you're able to form a connection with the robot without its aid, to the person, there will be examples of things that could go wrong when an emotional connection which is ultimately very distant," said Prof. Nick O'Connell of the University of Twente.

"We need more discussions about the ethics of designing robots. They could have their own preferences and they have emotional partners, but there is also a wider ethical issue in bringing what we know about human behaviour to virtual reality," said Twente's head of interdisciplinary research Dr. Sondre Lerom.

Physicality breeds emotion

Prof. Lerom, who lives in The Hague, says the French press has oft referred to the robot origin of romance, though the world of AI is now divvied up between robotic and human performers.

He says most people see potential romantic attraction in robots, but comes out against bringing bring an artificial form of emotion into the human-robot interaction.

"Most people are from a western point of view, and if they meet a Russian or an Italian they look at them as a stalker rather than a potential romantic partner," said Lerom. "Robots have great potential and really young people, even teenagers don't attach heavy value to these things."

To ease concerns about their emotional indifference or involvement in real-world activities, multi-format robotic companions are already out there.

Robots such as Sirocco-Beta, programmed to assist alone persons with intellectual disability, teach adults classes, carry supplies on the side of milled sidewalks and help to communicate with people with Alzheimer's and dementia.

This week, a woman in China was arrested for breaking into a Chinese funeral to kidnap a pair of twin flatbed trucks for this use.

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