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Robot Parents to Replace Human Counterparts?

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?

Read more: Aging, Babies, Blogs, Caregiving, Children, Family, Parenting at the Crossroads, Videos, , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


+ add your own
6:29PM PDT on Jun 24, 2012

Some robots would be more attentive.

5:00PM PDT on Jun 12, 2012

Hahahaha, never gonna happen :P

3:39AM PDT on Jun 12, 2012

As usual, a sensational, distorted headline: the robots are supposed to assist, not replace.

Having said THAT, this is just another techno-fix for the human "problem" of people having children who will wind up making excuses for lacking the most important thing a child actually needs: the time & attention of those who brought them forth.

2:07AM PDT on Jun 12, 2012


9:35AM PDT on Jun 11, 2012

Weird article!

12:10AM PDT on Jun 11, 2012

Thanks for the article.

9:05AM PDT on May 23, 2012

creepy and absolutely unnecessary. If your kids are so far down your list of priorities that you can't take the time to teach them to read or make sure they get physical exercise yourself....maaaaaybe you shouldn't have had them in the first place.

7:40AM PDT on May 23, 2012

Nope, If anybody is going to mess up my kids it will be me & my wife. Where's the love, man? :)

6:04AM PDT on May 23, 2012

Here is another attempt to disconnect human souls from each other in an already disconnected world!

6:04AM PDT on May 23, 2012

Here is another attempt to disconnect human souls from each other in an already disconnected world!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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