The Guardian reports that robots designed to interact with adults are “out of fashion” lately because—not to put too fine a point on it—adults are assholes. But what about robots for children?
The 3ft tall iPal has wide eyes, working fingers, pastel trimming, and a touchscreen tablet on its chest. It can sing, dance, and play rock paper scissors. It can talk with children, answer questions like “Why is the sun hot?”, and provide surveillance/video chat for absent parents.
“It’s a robot for children,” said Avatar Mind founder Jiping Wang. “It’s mainly for companionship.” The iPal, he boasted, could keep children aged three to eight occupied for “a couple of hours” without adult supervision. It is perfect for the time when children arrive home from school a few hours before their parents get off work, he said.
….Noel Sharkey, a professor emeritus of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Sheffield, has been raising concerns about robotic nannies since 2008. When I contacted Sharkey and informed him about the iPal, he responded, “This is awful.”
Now we’re talking. Hook ’em while they’re young, and they’ll love robots for the rest of their lives. And we all know what happens next, right? *cough* Robocop *cough* Skynet *cough*
Anyway, I don’t see why this is so terrible. It sure sounds better than planting the kids in front of SpongeBob SquarePants to get them to shut up. With the iPal, at least the little rugrats are interacting. And being surveilled too! This gets them accustomed to their likely future, where every movement will be seen by someone, somewhere.
In any case, it doesn’t really matter whether Noel Sharkey likes this or not. It’s going to happen, and before long kids and adults alike will be as comfortable with robots as they are with human being. More comfortable, in fact. I foresee a time when “parents” will be brought up on charges of child endangerment if their kids aren’t under the constant supervision of cute, tireless robots that subtly instill left-wing values. Welcome to the future.