Robots are not a new idea. They’ve existed for many years, mainly as industrial machinery. But now the idea of personal robots is expanding. A personal robot is a robot designed to be useful for humans. The proposition of having robots in our homes is intriguing but we’re not quite there yet. Currently they are very costly, although with the help of Moore’s Law perhaps we will see their price reduce and demand rise in the following years. I’m curious to see if our generation will experience the incorporation of personal robots into our daily lives. Let us hope that the movie I, Robot doesn’t become an accurate predictor of our future.
There is a robot for vacuuming and one for cleaning,
One for scheduling and some for picture taking,
One can tell stories and the other can cook chicken cacciatore,
There are robots to play the kazoo,
Some can be part of your family too,
There are one hundred for me,
And one hundred for you too.
and eventually recovery from the recession.
THE RISE OF PERSONAL ROBOTS
To me it’s a disturbing idea that a personal robot, a program, could become one of our close friends. But Cynthia Breazeal, grad student at MIT, has a different opinion. In Cynthia Breazeal’s Ted Talk, “The Rise of Personal Robots”, she explains that robots can act as social technology; they push our social buttons so to speak.
Cynthia performed a study in which a human would interact with her personal robot, Nexi. The personal robot was designed to use the same body language and the same verbal cues as the human that it was interacting with. She found that people responded to her robot the same way they responded to a human.
She has also developed MeBot, a robotic platform for socially embodied telepresence. This MeBot can capture things such as hand gestures and posture and display them to your conversation partner through the phone.
She’s working on another project named Playtime Computing where they’re taking what’s so engaging from on screen and bringing it into the real world. It’s a really cool idea, kids enjoy it. But I argue that letting them play outside would be more beneficial!
I believe social robots can be beneficial to us, but only to a certain extent. We could just become hermits and only have our robot friends if we so chose. I think that we can use these robots to our advantage, but we must also realize that if we become dependent on it we will lose our real friends.
CURRENT PERSONAL ROBOTS
Until I began to search for them, I did not realize the vast amounts of personal robots that have already been created. Here are a few that I’ve discovered so far.
Toshiba’s ApriPoko is a robot designed to act as a universal remote and understand the user. It processes information from our actions and commits it to memory. So for example, if it observes you turning on the TV it will ask what you just did, you tell it you just turned on the TV and so ApriPoko commits it to memory and next time you just have to tell the robot and it will turn the TV on for you.
Luna by Robodynamics is a general-purpose robot that can be taught new things. Luna is completely programmable and with the correct software could carry drinks for you, check your e-mails and much more.
Childcare PaPeRo by NEC Corporation is designed to be able to live with a family and act as their companion. It has features such as facial recognition and speech recognition which will allow it to interact intelligently with its users. Although personally I don’t believe I could trust PaPeRo with my own future child.
Jibo by the MIT Media Lab is a social robot, and apparently a new addition to the family. It can act as your family’s cameraman, tell stories to your children and remind you of your schedule.
Paro the robot seal has been around since 2004. It’s used to help treat dementia patients by making them feel comforted and important. Paro’s ability to give a real response to a patient encourages social interactions, not to mention he’s pretty cute too. An important thing that Paro gives his patient is the sense of responsibility as the patient being cared for wouldn’t feel responsible all too often. Paro is definitely a good example of an application in which robots should be used.
Nexi by MIT Personal Robots Group is an emotional robot. It is used to study completely regulated human interactions as humans respond to Nexi much like they would a human.
Robovie R3 by Advanced Telecommunications Institute with Vstone. Robovie R3 has been created to assist the elderly and disabled in everyday tasks such as navigation and shopping.
The main problem with getting these robots into our homes is the price. Once designs improve and interest for these units begins to rise we will witness a wave of moderately priced robots available for consumer purchase. Some wait anxiously for them, others eagerly and quite a few ignorant of the idea altogether.
WHERE TO DRAW THE LINE?
A big question I have is where do we draw the line with robotics? If we have social robots to befriend us, household robots to do our chores, fetch our groceries, and telepresence robots to allow us to be somewhere without physically going there, would there even be a need to go outside?
As humans we are always looking to improve productivity, especially if that could lead to eluding household chores. I believe household robots are a great idea and almost certainly will become integrated within our homes much like laptops and other gadgets have. These household robots may not be as capable as Rosie from The Jetsons but will certainly come close.
I hypothesize that we’ll sink too deeply into our robotic dependence when we start using them to impersonate ourselves. What I’m referring to is the idea of Telepresence Robots. A great example would be the robot created by Double Robotics which allows you to be anywhere in the world from your home, as long as your “Double” is there. It works by having an iPad or some sort of tablet that displays a live video stream of yourself mounted to a mobile robot. You simply connect from your iPad at home via an app and presto, you’re making a physical presence without even being there.
The idea behind this is completely practical but I fear that people may get too comfortable with using their “Double” as opposed to themselves physically being somewhere. It may lead to an age of anti-social hermits; important office meetings conducted entirely over video streams, kids choosing to employ their Double instead of physically going to class. I could see this technology being abused to an extreme level.
The need for face to face interaction is very important and I believe as people get more comfortable using telepresence robots we lose the ability to talk with people face to face. Social media and cellphones have already made a huge dent in that ability, I think these telepresence robots would do so even more.
IN CASE YOU HAVE ACQUIRED SEVERE HUMAN ABSTINENCE SYNDROME (SHAS)
If you have experienced any of the following signs or symptoms you may have SHAS:
1) Constant fear of stepping outdoors and feeling the need to explain the reasons why to Buddy, your robotic best friend.
2) Instead of telling your wife/husband and or children (who are in the same house) you love them in person you get Buddy to relay the message for you.
3) Your friends ask you to come out for dinner; you fake a headache and send your telepresence robot in your stead.
4) Your children would like you to read a bedtime story and immediately you send Buddy to tell them the story, he’s much better at it anyways.
5) Opting out of going to family events… You’re real family is the several robots you polish and care for unconditionally every night.
These are a few symptoms of SHAS, please refer to the following treatment suggestions if you indeed would like to get back to who you were.
1) SHUT OFF YOUR ROBOTS, THEY ARE TAKING OVER YOUR LIFE, SNAP OUT OF IT!
2) Now that you’ve shut them down, take a second to enjoy the sweet silence around you, perhaps you’ll hear birds chirping outdoors instead of the constant rumbling robotic motors.
3) Go tell all of your family and friends that you love and cherish them, quickly now.
4) Enjoy a walk outside by yourself, with friends and or family.
5) Book a few dinner dates with your friends, be sure to attend them in person.
Disconnecting from technology may be one of the most relieving, enlightening experiences you’ve had in quite a while. Take a seat before you fall over. We must always remember that although they may seem like they can, robots do not feel as humans do. Remaining distant from family and friends can potentially cause an unrecoverable gap between you and them. Always, always keep family and friends first. Robot friends can come in later.
ALONG WITH OUR SOCIAL ROBOT FRIENDS, WOULD THERE EVEN BE A NEED TO GO OUTDOORS?
As Cynthia Breazeal quotes,
“Robots touch something deeply human within us”
I begin to wonder if this is a double edged sword. They may touch something deeply human within us, but as we entwine our lives more and more with robots will we lose something more human? I believe that face to face human interaction is deeply embedded within our culture. Just being able to observe hand gestures and give simple things like hugs cannot be mimicked by robots. We already see a loss of physical interaction occurring due to things like: social media, texting, self-checkout lines in grocery stores, and the list rambles on. Could robots turn us into an entirely anti-social society? I think it is entirely plausible and we must tread with caution in order to ensure this doesn’t happen.