Spot the Robot!
Please no! This is obviously a toy and not a robot. But the promise of robots moving out of the industrial space and into the home is becoming more and more realistic.
There are 2 kinds of home robots that R&D is focusing on. The first are the “instrumental robots”, little brothers of the industrial robots and likewise designed for specific tasks: vacuuming the floor or mowing the lawn. The more advanced category is sometimes called “social robots” – those that in the future could help elderly with daily tasks, support in hospital settings, and other more personal tasks. And the logic is this: since the tasks these robots perform are social, giving them a human form will make them more accepted by the people who should use and benefit from them. But this has some perhaps unintended consequences. If a driving idea behind making robots look like people is their users will psychologically be more accepting of them, then touching their keyboard for entering commands would not only be counter-intuitive, it would arguably be too intimate. We will innately expect to interact with these computers using verbal communication, facial communication, gestures – and expect simulated “eye contact”, spatial distance and other cultural queues will be adhered to by the robots.
Voice recognition has been around since the 80s but it took the mobile phone with hands-free features to make people psychologically comfortable walking down the street apparently talking to themselves. Now that we are comfortable “talking to nobody”, we are comfortable talking to a piece of glass and metal in the form of Siri, or Alexa, or Cortana. It’s fairly easy to see how this will be psychologically easy.
Having a social robot that is able to visually and physically represent the right social queues to gain acceptance, however, will be a tougher challenge. First of all, because these are culturally dependent – robotics engineers will have to adjust these based on the countries they sell their products to. There is also the problem of social acceptance about robots in the first place. There are already studies about the correlation between a society’s positive or negative view of robots, the amount of R&D spent on robotics, and if those robots tend to have an instrumental / use based form or a social robot / human looking.
Could it be that in the future there will be a competitive advantage to countries which are already socially biased to accept robots? At the rate of technological advancement, it won’t take long to find out.