28 February, 2017
We all know that automation is the buzzword of the century. It is believed that all of the simple skill based tasks will soon be relegated to machines, such as driving, data handling, etc. Only the more complex skills that require decision making and implementation will still be done by human beings.
However, it may soon be the case that jobs requiring higher skills are also not immune to automation. Lawyers and doctors are at just as much risk of losing their jobs to a skilled robot. In this scenario, how would people, actual humans, feel about being taken care of by a robot. We are of course referring to being operated upon by machines, but also interacting with a machine about health concerns, or even having a robot at home as a caregiver!
Researchers at Middlesex University and the University of Bertfordshire in the United Kingdom are working on developing social robots. These robots specialize in bedside manner, elderly care and interaction. It is their hope that these robots provide care and companionship to those who need it. However, natural language will be a huge roadblock in building these robots as elderly people interact very differently- some may communicate verbally while others may resort to non-verbal means.
The important thing to note is that currently, these robots are only intended to complement human care- to look after people when their human caregivers are away for short periods of time. It is hoped that using such robots can help alleviate the massive demand for care homes, especially in developed nations. In the Indian scenario, these bots would have to be programmed to do much more- since we do not have emergency medical services that respond to a single call, these bots would have to learn to navigate more complex systems and conversations. Most importantly, they need to become affordable.
However, we cannot dismiss them as just another fad. A decade ago, artificial intelligence was a concept, useful only to perform lab tasks. Today, everything from the Siri on your iPad to driverless cars in San Francisco run on artificial intelligence. It is perhaps only a matter of time before machines begin to take on more social roles.
Image courtesy: www.psfk.com
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