Children are becoming more and more reliant upon technology for nearly everything. Whether it is entertainment, education, or even comfort, contemporary children have cultivated a real, and undeniable, dependence upon the comforts and engagement of all things technological. I have seen children at the airport, at the grocery check out, or in the dentist office waiting room, paying no mind to their parents and working their necks into a right angle while playing any number of touch-screen games. Who needs parental engagement?
Well this question is being addressed by a team of researchers at Yale University, with help from USC researchers. The team is steadily working to develop a new type of sophisticated, socially assistive robots to help children learn to read, overcome cognitive disabilities and perform physical exercise…basically, robotic parents. Both schools have received millions of dollars in funding from the National Science Foundation to research and develop these “parent-bots,” not to replace “human caregivers or teachers” but to forge new relationships with children and go where no human has gone before, presumably. Maja Matarić, Vice Dean for research and professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, claims the purpose of the project is to “… create self-adapting machines capable of cultivating long-term, interpersonal relationships and assisting preschool-age children with educational and therapeutic goals.” Threatening? Maybe. Brave new world? Positively!
This is certainly not the first, or last, time someone has set out to replace, or make obsolete, caregivers of all kinds. The Japanese, predictably, are pioneers in this field with varying results. A few years ago, there was a move to create a legion of robots to care for Japan’s growing elderly population, but that hasn’t worked out as well as some hoped. But undoubtedly, advancements in robotics continue with some results being very impressive, as is evidenced in this robotic dog video courtesy of (again) a USC engineering team:
It would be folly to assume that parents can, or will, be replaced by robotic counterparts, at least anytime soon. That said, what is your feeling about robot assistants who help your children with their homework, exercise and reading? Is it any different than a piece of keen software? Is it threatening or exciting?