Older adults worry kids will be lazy if robots don’t have parental controls

Some roboticists have been worried that healthcare providers would not accept robots out of fear the machines might replace them in the workplace. But a recent Georgia Institute of Technology study found that when healthcare providers such as nurses were “offered an assistant, they preferred it to be a robotic helper rather than a human.” But that was only for some interactions, such as everyday tasks like housework and reminders to take medicine that could be completed by assistant robots. In a 2012 study, the lab “found older people are generally willing to accept help from robots.”

Robot hands medicine to older adult

That may depend, however, on whether the robots are companion robots or assistant robots. Companion robots provide emotional support and are meant to be a user’s buddy; they interact like a friend and could watch a movie or play a game with a user. Many robot designers and developers are aiming at an audience of older adults, but those adults may not be inclined to use companion robots out of fear that children will be negatively affected.

Researchers from Penn State asked 640 retirees over the age of 60 if they believed robots might “make them lazier and encourage them to interact less often with other people” and “then asked similar questions about the effects of robots on young people.” The older adults were not concerned about becoming physically and emotionally dependent on robots themselves, but “they worried that young people might become too dependent on them.”

ALIZ-E project for cognitive and social robot companions

"A companion robot provides the user with a source of friendship. They might watch TV with the participant, provide emotional support, or complete an activity with the user," explained Penn State PhD student Frank Waddell. “This interactivity may be one reason that users tend to attach human-like emotions to companion robots.” Older adults in this study “did not seem to show the same level of apprehensions about assistant robots.”

"We've seen this type of effect, which is usually referred to as a third-person effect, with different types of media, such as video games and television, but this is the first time we have seen the effect in robotics," Waddell stated. "According to a third person effect, a person says they are not as negatively affected by the media as other people."

Robot designers have been developing companion robots for retirees, but if seniors are worried about robots having negative effects on children, as this study suggested, then Waddell said designers need to include “some type of parental controls" for the robot interface. Adding parental controls might help “convince adults that they can own and use robots and still protect children from their fears that the devices might lead to laziness and dependency.”

While older adults might like to keep children away from companion robots, if robots were to read about “vampire therapy,” then the bots might be concerned about leaving kids alone with older adults.

Vampire therapy: Robots, hide kids from senior citizens!

Vampire therapy, give kids' blood to older adults to reverse the aging process

Scientists, according to the Telegraph, believe that “transfusions of youthful blood may halt or reverse the aging process” and may even cure Alzheimer’s disease. After repeatedly injecting old mice with blood from young mice, scientists claim that “young blood actually ‘recharges’ the brain, forms new blood vessels and improves memory and learning.”

There were two different studies, but the one from Harvard identified a “youth protein” known as GDF11, “which circulates in the blood.” It “is responsible for keeping the brain and muscles young and strong.” In fact, “GDF11 has an amazing capacity to restore aging muscle and brain function.” Researchers hope human trials for this “vampire therapy” will begin in two or three years.

Hybrids, vampire robots

Maybe if older adults were really to embrace companion robots, then they could make them into vampire hybrids to help gather young blood and hurry along the process to reverse aging? No worries, I'm teasing. Both companion robots and "vampire therapy" have a lot of potential for good.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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