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Society, Technology

New Paradigms in Robotics

The ever-shifting landscape of robotics reflects substantial reparametrization, particularly insofar as the nature of the human-robot interaction. I’m struck by two recent examples in the news.

For many years, the narrative in both fiction and fact about robotic development has tended to stress either robots doing intensive and demanding manual labor or engaging in challenging but somewhat abstract mental exercises like winning games of chess or “Jeopardy.” But we’re now seeing the development of “social robots” characterized by a more finely nuanced understanding of human nature and interacting with humans by helping them with activities requiring social interaction.

After years of existing only in fiction, social robots are finally being designed that can more closely emulate how people express themselves, interact and learn – and doing so while performing jobs like teaching social behavior to children with autism or helping stroke patients with their physical rehabilitation exercises. (Science Daily)

The key to developing such robots, according to Science Daily, is training robots to interact with humans on a social, emotional, psychological level.

The first prototype robots capable of developing emotions as they interact with their human caregivers and expressing a whole range of emotions have been finalised by researchers. (Science Daily)


Developed as part of the interdisciplinary project FEELIX GROWING (Feel, Interact, eXpress: a Global approach to development with Interdisciplinary Grounding), funded by the European Commission and coordinated by Dr. Cañamero, the robots have been developed so that they learn to interact with and respond to humans in a similar way as children learn to do it, and use the same types of expressive and behavioural cues that babies use to learn to interact socially and emotionally with others. (Science Daily)

The other dimension of paradigm change in how we think of robots that is in the news recently was mentioned in the New York Times Bits Blog. Historically, science fiction and other narratives have tapped into our fear that robots will someday replace us, indeed that they’re already beginning to. But such need not be the case, as evidenced by the implementation of robotics in Amazon warehouses and distribution centers.

Is this one more step, a quickening step, toward the day when robots put many of us out of work? Most roboticists don’t see the coming robot invasion that way.

Michael Kutzer and Christopher Brown, robotics research engineers with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, explained that current robots are being designed to work alongside people, not replace them, in the work force. (New York Times Bits Blog)

Not only will robots work alongside people as much as replace them, the arrival of robots on a large scale will actually serve as an impetus for the development of new kinds of work, a dynamic that allegedly we have seen repeated numerous times through history.

“There has long been a mentality that we’re going to run out of work to do and there is going to be an absence of work for people,” Mr. Summers said. “Both have been asserted in every generation and always historically been wrong. In reality, if people are freed up from one thing they are able to do something different.” (New York Times Bits Blog)

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