I can’t wait until robots are widely available. I mean real proper robots like you see in films like “I, Robot” and “Robot and Frank”. Robots could really help people with disabilities in a number of different ways.
Robotic carers may soon start being deployed around the world to take care of vulnerable people. In a film called “Robot and Frank” a man called Frank had a robot that helped him do all sorts of everyday things like cooking, cleaning and carrying out robberies. It would be great if I had a robot that can do all these things!
They are already being developed, like the “Robear” in Japan, which was built to help look after the countries ageing population.
Robot carers could in theory have certain advantages over human carers. For example, they wouldn’t get tired, so theoretically they could work all day without having a break. Human carers have a limit as to how many hours they can work every day, so I can’t drive them into the ground. It probably wouldn’t be fair!
Another thing is you wouldn’t have to pay them wages. So in the long run they might work out cheaper, although the initial purchase price would probably be a lot. But like all new technology the price will eventually come down. The high cost could prevent a lot of people from being able to buy one, so maybe they could be loaned from a robotic care agency or from the NHS.
You could program the robot to do exactly what you want, and it wouldn’t forget anything. Machines are not susceptible to lapses of concentration like humans are. Depending on how advanced their artificial intelligence is they could learn a lot faster than humans too. They could work things out for themselves, work out the best way to do things and help people to make the best decisions.
However, there is one thing that robots might not be able to replicate. Carers don’t just do physical work they also provide companionship for their clients. For some people their carers may be the only people they see every day. So it’s important they get on well with them. Would it be possible to become friends with a robot? Could they have conversations like humans do? Again this depends on how advanced their artificial intelligence is. A robot carer would not be much good if it had the social skills of a vacuum cleaner. I’ve had one or two human carers like that and it’s not much fun!
“The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet” –William Gibson
Robotic carers may be a few years off yet, but advanced robots are already here. Take ASIMO for example.
Built by Honda, ASIMO is one of, if not, the most advanced humanoid robots on the planet. It can run, jump, climb stairs, carry cups of coffee, recognise faces and even have a conversation with you (sort of). Check out the video below:
There are many other robot building projects going on as well and lots of equally impressive creations ranging from the cute to the bizarre. Have a look at this page for a list of some of the best ones.
My personal favourite is the NAO robot which not only is really cute to look at but has some impressive tricks as well. I saw one of these at Naidex in Birmingham one year and it danced to Gangnam Style! I really want one but they cost about $8000, which is actually relatively cheap compared to other robots. Its fully programmable so if you know how to code you can get it to do what you want. Probably won’t be able to make you a cup of coffee though.
…and here they are dancing!
Robots are also starting to help disabled people in other forms. Robotic exoskeletons are now available which could help people paralysed from the waist down to walk again. There are a number of these available such as the Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) from Japanese company Cyberdyne.
(I’m not sure if Cyberdyne was the best name for the company as it probably reminds people of Terminators. Luckily they are not working on anything called Skynet.)
Here is a video of HAL in action:
Robotic exoskeletons could also be worn by carers which would enable them to lift more weight than they otherwise would be. Lots of carers suffer from back pain as a result of manual handling so with the exoskeletons help less strain would be put on the back.
Here is another exoskeleton from Ekso Bionics:
I don’t think they would help me to walk because I don’t have any upper body support and would probably just fall over. Also because I have high muscle tone and get random spasms sometimes the exoskeleton might amplify the effect of it. I might accidentally punch someone, like this:
But you never know unless you try it. So, hopefully sometime I will get to try an exoskeleton and see if it helps me. Or it might just make me smash stuff up, we will see!
Uploading Consciousness to a Computer
There are a number of films that explore the idea of uploading the human mind to a computer or a different body such as Transcendence, Chappie and Avatar. These films got me thinking…
If we had the ability to transfer our consciousness and personality into a robot body, would you do it?
If I had the choice I think I would consider it. BUT only if it was a tested, reliable and safe procedure. I’m not going to be the first one to volunteer for it.
But why would I want to do it? Well, it’s like if you have a broken car. If you can’t fix it, you buy another one. My body is a bit messed up, and doesn’t work as it should. So, if I have a chance to get another one that works fine, then I think it’s worth a try.
After all our body does not define us as a person. It is our mind and personality, contained in the brain, that defines us. The body is merely a vehicle for the brain to express itself.
This is obviously something that will not happen in the near future (if at all), probably not for at least another 20 or 30 years.
BUT there is a guy that is seriously trying to make it happen.
The 2045 Initiative
Dmitry Itskov, a Russian billionaire and entrepreneur, has founded the 2045 Initiative which brings together many experts in the field of life extension and Cybernetics. Check out their website here: http://2045.com/
They have a number of goals which they want to achieve under a project called Avatar:
- Avatar A 2015 – 2020: Create a robotic copy (avatar) of the human body to be remotely controlled by a brain – computer interface
- Avatar B 2020 – 2025: Create a non– biological Avatar into which a human brain can be transplanted at the end of one’s life.
- Avatar C 2030 – 2035: Create an avatar with an artificial brain into which a person’s personality can be transplanted when they die.
- Avatar D 2040 – 2045: Create a hologram like avatar.
So, by 2035 they hope to be able to upload a person’s consciousness into an artificial body, just like in Chappie or Transcendence.
If they manage to do this then disability could become a thing of the past. However, there are a whole load of ethical, moral and legal issues that would have to be considered as well.
Think about people who have terminal illnesses who want to kill themselves. They have to travel to places like Switzerland because assisted suicide is illegal in a lot of countries. If disabled people wanted to upload their consciousness to a robot than they would have to have help to do it, which may or may not be legal. So there will probably be a lot of legal loopholes that would have to be jumped through to do it.
There is also the possibility that people can abuse the system. Some people may want to have a robot body just so they could use it for crime for example, as it would probably give them extra strength.
To combat this I guess there would have to be a lot of psychological tests done on people beforehand to determine their state of mind, and intentions. It’s probably not a good idea to let a psychopath loose with a robot. But probably, like everything some people will probably slip through the net.
I personally think that the potential benefits would outweigh the potential drawbacks. This technology could save lives, for example, if you can remotely control a robot body to put out fires. The military could use it which could reduce casualties in war. But as with the use of Drones there will probably be a lot of resistance to the use of robots in war zones.
So, in our lifetime we could see the development of artificial bodies into which a human consciousness can be placed. The technology doesn’t exist AT THE MOMENT but who knows what we will be capable of in 20 years time. 20 years ago we didn’t even have the Internet. Now almost everyone has a smartphone. According to Moores law computer power doubles every 18 months, so who is to say what we will be capable of in 2045.
In the next 10 years however I hope that robots and artificial intelligence becomes sophisticated enough so that they can help disabled people like myself in our homes. Personally I am looking forward to the future. I think technology has the potential to change our lives for the better in ways we can’t imagine now.
What do YOU think?
Would you want to have a robot carer, or housekeeper? Would you want to upload your consciousness to a robot if you had the chance? Please comment and let me know what you think!