Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Robots as Caregivers

I am reading an article in the November 2nd issue of the New Yorker that talks about the future of robots being caregivers. It's written by Dr. Jerome Groopman, and the piece is called ""Robots that Care: Advances in technological therapy." The piece talks about robot researchers at the University of Southern California developing robots who assist patients recovering from strokes as well as working with Alzheimer patients. It's a fascinating piece, especially when it talks about how robots, as caregivers, need to be different with patients who are introverted versus extroverted. Maya Mataric is the lead scientist. Here's her take on it:

Mataric concluded that, as with human caregivers, temperament would be a key factor. The robots would need to be able to judge whether a patient was introverted or extroverted, and know how to respond in the appropriate manner.

To test their theory, Mataric and her team categorized the personalities of healthy volunteers, using the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire, and observed their responses to robots that were programmed to behave as introverts or extroverts. A robot’s degree of sociability was defined by how far it positioned itself from the patient, the speed of its movements, and its type of communication. For people who were more extroverted, Mataric programmed the robot to move close. “We are not talking sociopathically close, because we always maintain three to four feet of
safety distance between the user and the robot,” she explained. “But, with the extroverted robots, they move into your area, and talk with a slightly higher pitch, more words per unit time, and they say things that are more forceful,
like ‘Come on, you can do three more. I know you can do better than that.’ ” The more introverted robots were programmed to stay farther away from the user, to gesticulate less, and to speak with a slightly lower pitch and at a slower tempo. “You don’t want to make the introversion glaring,” Mataric said. The introverted robots also said more soothing things and offered more praise.

To read the whole article go to "Robots that Care," New Yorker, November 2, 2009

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