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New Jersey lawyer focusing on special education law and employment law

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Will Humanoid Robots Replace Service Animals?

With apologies to science fiction writer Phillip Dick, do you dream of humanoid robots? Do robots with artificial intelligence strike your fancy? Once programmed with all the necessary algorithms, humanoid robots will care for you, administer medication when needed, and prevent harm from coming to you. They will require no tolietry, bathing, or feeding. They will be obedient. They will be strong enough to carry you and intelligent enough to retrieve any object. They will be odorless and will not cause allergies. They will talk to you and try to make you laugh if you wish.

If you have a specific physical disability, humanoid robots will be programmed to mitigate that disability. If you have a specific mental disability, humanoid robots may help you adjust and, if necessary, the robots may be programmed to detect, identify, and respond to any abnormal behavior to influence positive outcomes.

You may be wondering, “Could it happen?” This is the wrong question. Because it is already happening. Scientists have been working on humanoid robots for many years. The right question is, “When will I get one?” Or: “Do I want one?”

It is common knowledge that Japan has been the forefront of the humanoid robot revolution. The elderly population in Japan is multiplying; and to help care for the aging society, Japanese scientists have spent years developing humanoid robots–or robots that work like nurses–to help the elderly. With old age comes frailty, Alzheimers, dementia, cancer, rhematoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and countless other diseases. Some may be lucky and live as healthy as a horse in old age, but most will experience disease that may require assistance with medicine, bathing, feeding, and all the things that make us human. Until a cure is found for any specific disease, the elderly must turn to their friends, their family, their aides, their service animals–or to their humanoid robots.

Once programmed, humanoid robots can be strong, intelligent, and caring. Look at this video:

If you are still not convinced, look at this one:

Some might say that Japan’s obsession with humanoid robots borders on madness. But context is important. Japan’s family structure has changed dramatically over the years. There simply aren’t enough nurses to care for the elderly in Japan. Therefore, one must acknowledge the important role that humanoid robots will play in Japan’s aging society.

For some scientists, robots performing physical tasks aren’t enough. Some want to develop emotional humanoid robots–that is, robots that can understand human behavior, whether normal or abnormal.

What is the point of this?

Imagine: A child with autism has poor socialization skills. A robot has been programmed with millions of computations and can detect the tiniest instance of progress or regression within a fraction of a second. By tracking the autistic child’s movements, facial expressions, moods, body temperature, and blood pressure, the robot will be able to identify what works and what does not work much faster than any human being. The robot can help the autistic child socialize faster in a more efficient way. This is not science fiction. It is already a work in progress.

Until the day comes when humanoid robots can be purchased at Amazon and Best Buy, simpler robots can be had for simpler purposes. For example, some elderly patients can interact with Paro, a robotic pet that resembles a harp seal. Paro alleviates stress and helps with depression by interacting with people and “responding as if it [were] alive, moving its head and legs, making sounds.” Paro can understand the difference between praise and admonition; the difference between being touched and being beaten; the difference between light and dark. If Paro does something and is subsequently admonished or beaten, it will remember not to repeat that action again. Likewise, if Paro is praised, it will remember to perform the action again in the future.

It has been suggested that “robotic pets are safer, cleaner and more predictable in pet therapy programs than flesh-and-blood cats or dogs.”

Maybe so. There is no doubt that humanoid robots and service animals have one thing in common: they both help the disabled live independently.

But doesn’t the unpredictability of a real live service animal make life interesting? At the end of the day, when the animal is home and relaxed, the handler enjoys interacting with a living, breathing animal. A playmate. An animal that peers at us with curious eyes. A creature with a cold nose, a warm touch, and a unique personality that never ceases to give us love and laughter.

Hal 9000 in 2001 was intelligent, replicants in Blade Runner were cunning, and C-3P0 in Star Wars was funny.

Imagine a humanoid robot that exudes the likeness of certain robot characters from our favorite movies and helps the physically disabled, the mentally impaired, and the elderly.

Could humanoid robots ever replace service animals? Would you prefer to have a service animal or a humanoid robot? Does this video give any clues?

Chime away by posting a comment below.

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    There is 1 comment. Add Yours.

    Rachel —

    There seems to be many benefits to having humanoid robots serve as service and companion animals to people in need. If I was in need of assistance, I would want a humanoid robot to fill the official service position but a real life animal to serve as my pet.