I was in Sydney over New Year (nowhere better to celebrate it!) before heading off for holidays, and was invited onto the Today national breakfast program to talk about some of the themes from my 2013 and Beyond Appearing and Disappearing framework.
Click on the image below to view a video of the segment.
One of the ideas they wanted to talk about was “robo-nannies”. We originally dreamed of robots that could do more than help with manufacturing and mechanical processes, and we are now on the verge of robots being engaged in what we consider very human functions. However there are a number of elements required before we entrust our children to robotic nannies.
- 1. Practical care and safety.
While some elements of practical care, such as providing appropriate food and avoiding unhealthy food, are reasonably easy to fulfil. However robo-nannies would also have to be aware of not just imminent but also potential danger, such as unstable objects in the house that could be knocked over. Spatial perception and modelling of potential physical scenarios is still a way off what would be required, but is getting there.
- 2. Engagement and education.
This will be robots’ strong suit. Robots that can recognize the capabilities of children and present them relevant and fun educational games will arguably have an advantage over most humans. The key issue will be robot-guided play in response to needs and moods rather than simply being another computer to play with.
- 3. Affection and love.
While this would seem to be the hardest domain, we are already well advanced in reverse-engineering what it is that makes us feel warmth and affection. Over seven years ago I wrote about how the Japanese robot seal Paro is used in therapeutic settings and later about emotional bonding with robots. Clearly robot love will never be a substitute for human love, however it can be a complement and allow the development of other forms of positive emotional engagement.
It will take a while yet until we can fulfil these three criteria, but they are within reach. Many will object that humans will always be better at caring for children than robots. That is absolutely true if we consider the best humans, but there are many people we wouldn’t entrust our children to. If we do not have trustworthy people available as child-carers, we may soon have trustworthy robots who can not just take care of, but also nurture and develop our children.