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The photo you see for the cover of this article is of a Japanese nurse robot, which serves as one creative solution to a growing problem in the country. With the highest life expectancy in the world, Japan is greatly suffering from a shortage of healthcare workers — more so than any other country in the world, Stanford University reports. Nearly 30% of Japan’s population is over the age of 65, and with only about 1.2 births per woman, there are not nearly enough people entering the workforce to make up for both the decline in working adults and the demands of an aging population. This is where robots come in, and the video below is one promising example of where we might be headed in the future.

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The video was released in 2011 when PBS Nova ScienceNow conducted an interview with David Hansen. He created a robot named Philip who looks exactly like a human, and is programmed to convince people he’s really listening by responding to questions. What he is really doing is using speech and facial recognition software to track the interviewer’s body language and thought processes.

The goal of these designers is to one day have their robots working in hospitals and with special needs children.

As stated on his website, Hanson Robotics:

Our robots exhibit the highest quality expressions and interactivity in the world, fusing our advances in walking, talking robots who maintain eye contact, recognize faces and understand speech, hold conversations, and simulate a real person’s personality.

At Hanson Robotics, the team believes the immediate future for the business lies in creating animatronic robots for theme parks while it develops for the longer term lifelike androids to work in hospitals and with special needs children.

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It’s an interesting notion: robots working in hospitals and with special needs children. Should this not be the job of a real person? One with emotions, empathy, and the ability to connect with another human being? That being said, who is to say a robot can’t do that? The benevolent intent of this company is clearly admirable, but the whole thing still feels a little weird, don’t you think? After all, computers run on software programming, and to some extent, so do we. Do we really think for ourselves? Or are our thoughts, desires, and perceptions ‘programmed’ into us by mass media? Some interesting things to think about. What happens when and if these robots start thinking for themselves? Is that even a possibility? There are so many questions to be asked here…

The Nova episode featuring Phillip can be seen here in its entirety.

It would be great to hear your thoughts on this. Feel free to share the comments section below.


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