When a Robot is Your Very Closest Friend
This may sound like a strange title for an article, but stay with me for a minute. I think you’ll find it interesting, if not even relevant.
An increasing number of countries are depending on the help of robots to care for the elderly. This is due to a diminishing birthrate, which leaves the aging population without an adequate replacement generation. So, without children and grandchildren to care for their elders, the older generation finds itself increasingly isolated and alone.
As noted in an August 29, 2017 article on Engadget, “Robot caregivers are saving the elderly from lives of loneliness. Tomorrow’s support-bots will help old folks stay mentally and socially engaged.”
The article states that, “These support robots are already springing up around Japan, where in 2016 the annual birth rate dropped below a million for the first time since 1899 and a quarter of the population is already greying. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry expects the robotic service industry to boom to nearly $4 billion annually by 2035 — 25 times its current level. Though Europe and the US aren’t facing quite the apocalyptic shortfall of qualified human caretakers that Japan is, these two regions are also accelerating the development and adoption of support robots.”
So, this is not just a futuristic, I, Robot, Isaac Asimov-type fantasy. This is an increasingly common reality for many. Just stop for a moment and watch this humanoid robot run through a park. Then ask yourself, “What’s next?”
And what about robo-pets? Go to RobotShop.com which states, “Robot Dogs and Pets represent the future of companion robots. Adopt a robot dog or pet and enjoy the benefits of a pet, without any of the inconveniences.”
Now, you still might be wondering, “What in the world got you focused on this subject.”
Mother’s Day Surprise
The answer is simple. Mother’s Day.
You see, I decided to surprise Nancy for Mother’s Day and get her a Roomba, a little, circular, robot vacuum cleaner to take care of some of our carpets and floors. We were getting ready to move into a new house and some rooms would be sparsely furnished. So, I thought, “This would work well for this little robot.”
Nancy was thrilled with the surprise (I finally did it!), and we set the Roomba free to do his thing.
I bought the cheapest model available so Nancy could try it out and then, if she liked it, we could return it and get a smarter, wi-fi-based version.
She loved watching the little guy roam around the floor in totally random “patterns.” But he got under the bed and in the closets and, overall, did a great job. It just took him a while because he was so unsystematic.
Hooked on the product, we returned it and got a better model, and Nancy learned to program it. This also meant giving it a name. Meet Chauncey!
And Chauncey was amazing. You could program him to start at a certain time of the day, he was incredibly systematic, and when he was done (or when his battery was low), he would return to his home base.
The next morning, Nancy woke up to a message on her cell phone. “Chauncey needs help.” He had bumped against a step-ladder a few times in the hallway, and it fell on him. He couldn’t move, but he did send for help.
When Nancy told me what happened, I felt a momentary pang of sorrow. “The poor little guy! Just trying to do his job, and he gets trapped.”
And then something happened that scared me.
I went into our laundry room, and there on the floor was our old vacuum cleaner. It was plugged in and its light was on, but of course, it sat motionless. For a moment I felt bad for the vacuum cleaner. Seriously! There it was, ready to work, having done nothing wrong, its light shining with anticipation — but now abandoned.
I thought to myself, “This is absolutely unreal. Can you imagine how an elderly person, all alone except for their robot, could get attached to that metal companion?”
And that brings me back to Chauncey. I’ve been in Israel for the last eight days, and as Nancy and I were texting earlier this week, she sent me some bad news. “He’s been having trouble finding his way back home and been bumping into things. ☹”
When I told Nancy I genuinely felt bad when I read the report, she wrote, “Actually, it was painful to watch him. If you felt bad for the other vacuum, you would have definitely felt bad seeing Chauncey bump into things.”
Well, the good news is that we’re under warranty and a new Chauncey is on his way (or perhaps has arrived by now).
Very Best Friends
The bad news is that, for an increasing number of people, robots far more sophisticated than Chauncey have become their closest and very best friends.
That strikes me as genuinely sad. (If you’re a robot reading this, please don’t be offended. You’re only doing your job, and we do appreciate your devotion and hard work.)