Scientists in Sweden are attempting to “birth” a robot boy within nine months, hoping to have the little fellow completed in time for a real-time birth, or presentation to the public. They hope that the little boy robot will be able to take its place in society, helping the ill or interacting with its human caregivers to provide for their needs. Meanwhile, in Japan, scientists and biometric engineers/roboticists have developed a little child robot, CB2, with soft skin whose sensors and biometrics allows it to interact facially and physically with its caregivers. The video shows how they mimic interaction with children in order to program this Roboy, hoping to use this robot boy to study child growth and development.
Somehow, this all brings to mind the science fiction of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, from Rosie in “The Jetsons,” to Robby the robot in “Lost in Space,” not to mention all the science fiction novels, television shows and movies featuring robots and robot uprisings.
This begs one to ask the question: if a robot is capable of growth, development and learning, how long can it be “satisfied” with living as a virtual slave? While these creatures may be designed as companions or help-mates, or as scientific tools to understand child development, won’t giving them human features, whether cartoonish or freakishly real, give them a human cast that we simply may not be ready to accept in our homes?
Can a robot created by humans truly mimic or equal the genetic, social, emotional and interactive connection between a parent and child? Will we truly learn about a child’s brain and growth and development using artificial intelligence?
In the 1940’s to the 1960’s, scientists and behavioral psychologist used real children, orphans or those “volunteered” by parents, plus volunteer college students, to try to understand how they could shape their minds and socio-emotional growth using deprivation, mind-control experiments and tools designed to quash or shape their personalities or individuality, all in the name of science and discovery. Even the government used experiments like this to shape soldiers (we have all heard of brain-washing and other methods). When this was no longer feasible, due to Human Rights and public outcries, psychologists turned to virtual testing and experiments. And now we have a child-like robot being developed in the name of science.
It may be the 21st century, but it is still difficult to imagine “A robot for every house,” as promised in “I, Robot” or in “Robopocalypse.” It is frightening to imagine giving a robot the capability to “feel” and “grow,” and then taking away the freedom of choice afforded its human counterparts. We are all fascinated by robots. The scientist within us wonders how far we really can take robotics, and how real robots can be made to appear and behave. But the humanist, the parent within each of us, wonders just how humane it is to give a robot a child’s feelings and abilities to interact and “feel,” and then use it in experiments.