Robot companions: Towards a new concept of friendship?

Interaction Studies 11 (2):220-226 (2010)
Noel and Amanda Sharkey have written an insightful paper on the ethical issues concerned with the development of childcare robots for infants and toddlers, discussing the possible consequences for the psychological and emotional development and wellbeing of children. The ethical issues involving the use of robots as toys, interaction partners or possible caretakers of children are discussed reviewing a wide literature on the pathology and causes of attachment disorders. The potential risks emerging from the analysis lead the authors to promote a multidisciplinary debate on the current legislation to deal with future robot childcare. As a general first consideration, the questions arising from the paper are extremely timely since current robot technology is surprisingly close to achieving autonomous bonding and sustained socialization with human toddlers. The evolution of robot technology has been so speedy in the last few years that even if a discipline like Human-machine Interaction has only recently welcomed human-robot interaction within its disciplinary scope, a variety of social robots have started to populate our life and daily activities. In the past five years human-robot interaction has received a significant and growing interest leading to the development of the so-called robots companions, a term that emphasizes a constant interaction and co-operation between human beings and robotic machines. While Noel and Amanda Sharkey in their paper take a critical stance on the consequences of the use of robots as companions or caretakers, others researchers seem more keen to highlight the potential of caregiver robots in particular in educational settings. In this commentary I’ll try to offer my personal viewpoint on the consequences of using robot companions or caretakers of children on learning and education, and the effects of technologies on cognitive skills development, a controversial area of research where different findings show how little is known.
Keywords Robot  Education  Learning
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DOI 10.1075/is.11.2.07mar
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