The summary article, The Dawn of Social Robots, published in the Monitor on Psychology on January 2018 and written by Kirsten Weir, recalls the fictional use of robots reflected in the 100th episode of the Twilight Zone. In this episode, a female robot functions as a parent surrogate for children that lack a real parent. The robot has all the qualities of a human and is shown to be tearful like a mother would be when the children grow up and leave the “nest.” Weir points out robots are now being used to help develop social skills in children who are autistic. These robots can “analyze and adapt to each child’s behavior, tailoring their interactions to suit the child’s abilities, preferences and behavioral goals.”
The article continues to show how robots are currently used for comfort and companionship with elders. PARO, a robotic harp seal developed by Wendy Moyle and colleagues, has been found to offer older adults with dementia a higher level of pleasure and quality of life as compared to a control group. This study recalls the famous Harry Harlow investigations in the ‘50’s on monkeys: He and his team found that infant rhesus monkeys preferred to spend more time with the “terry cloth monkeys” rather than the “wire monkeys” even when the wire made monkeys had the feeding bottle. One conclusion drawn from this study was that animals preferred the comfort of the touch or feel of the terry cloth mother as compared to that of the hard wire surrogate.
The article continues on the above theme to say that one day humanlike robots may provide companionship to older adults.
Another wonderful Twilight Zone episode showed a man compelled to live in exile, as a prisoner, on a neighboring asteroid from earth. There a humanlike robot with all of the emotions of a human being lived with him. The point of the episode was that the man stranded all on his own had developed a romantic love interest in the robot. Because of this love attachment the prisoner had formed with the robot, the stranded human had been able to survive the isolation of living all alone.
The studies mentioned in the above are beginning to demonstrate the interface between fiction and the technological advances in artificial intelligence that is occurring today. Scientists are now beginning to fathom what is needed to give robots a moral system that will help them in reacting to situations in which humans often encounter difficulty. These robots of the future will have to learn to understand the values and morals of the society they will be placed in to function in an autonomous manner as opposed to the factory robots that were developed in the past. For the sake of an enduring humanity, let us hope that future experts in technology employ artificial intelligence in a way that will benefit humankind. Mary Shelley’s prescient work, Frankenstein, is a reminder of the harmful consequences that can result from the misapplication of artificial intelligence.