Thursday, January 10, 2019

Robots in the Home

More new developments in household robotics:

Are Domestic Robots the Way of the Future?

One problem foregrounded by this article is people's expectation for robots to look humanoid, versus the optimal shape for efficiently performing their functions. A real-world autonomous floor cleaner, after all, doesn't take the form of "a humanoid robot with arms" able to "push a vacuum cleaner." A related problem is that our household environments, unlike factories, are designed to be interacted with by human beings rather than non-humanoid machines. Research by scientists at Cornell University has been trying "to balance our need to be able to relate ­emotionally to robots with making them genuinely useful."

Dave Coplin, CEO of The Envisioners, promotes the concept of "social robotics":

Domestic Robots Are Coming in 2019

He advocates "trying to imbue emotion into communication between humans and robots," as, for example, training robots to understand human facial expressions. He even takes the rather surprising position that the household robot of the future, rather than a "slave" or "master," should be "a companion and peer to the family.” According to Coplin, the better the communication between us and our intelligent machines, the more efficiently they will work for us. Potential problems need to be solved, however, such as the difficulty of a robot's learning to navigate a house designed for human inhabitants, as mentioned above. Security of data may also pose problems, because the robot of the future will need access to lots of personal information in order to do its job.

In Robert Heinlein's THE DOOR INTO SUMMER, the engineer narrator begins by creating single-task robots that sound a bit like the equivalent of Roombas. Later, he invents multi-purpose robotic domestic servants with more humanoid-like shapes, because they have to be almost as versatile as human workers. We're still a long way from the android grandmother in one of Ray Bradbury's classic stories, but robots are being designed to help with elder care in Japan. According to the article cited above, some potential customers want robots that may offer "companionship" by listening to their troubles or keeping pets company while owners are out. Now, if the robot could walk the dog, too, that would really be useful. The January NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC mentions medical robots that can draw blood, take vital signs, and even shift bedridden patients. One snag with such machines: To have the power to lift objects of significant weight, not to mention human adults, a robot has to be inconveniently heavy (as well as expensive).

On the subject of balancing usefulness with the need for relating emotionally: In Suzette Haden Elgin's poem "Too Human by Half," an elderly woman grows so attached to her lifelike household robot that she can't bear to replace it when it starts to malfunction. "Replace JANE? . . . Just because she's getting OLD?" Therefore, when the company launches its next model, "they made every one of the units look exactly like a broom."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

No comments:

Post a Comment