The friendly robots fighting loneliness

Heart-warming: Lovot is designed to be body temperature so that it feels less like a machine. © Groove X

Should we really trust robots? A growing number of people are turning to robots when they feel lonely – but critics warn against relying on mechanical friends.

What’s happening

Some robots are designed to build cars. Others do difficult mathematical equations. Some can even clear plates in restaurants.

However, Lovot is not one of them. It is only 40cm tall, with huge blinking eyes and fuzzy fur. It is cute, cuddly and its only purpose is to love you.

Find out more

Lovot was designed to fight loneliness. It comes from Japan, where 40% of people live alone. The little robots act like playful pets around the house. They have cameras that can see faces and they use artificial intelligence to detect human feelings.

As robots become more advanced, more people are using them for companionship. This month, care homes in the UK announced that they were going to hire robots, a type known as “patch”, to keep the residents company.

Patch robots have been tested in homes throughout Japan. They can hold conversations, remember facts and even share jokes.

Some people hope that robots could help everybody feel less lonely. But others say that machines can never offer true friendship.

Can we really have robot friends ?

Some say…

Of course! It may be better to have human contact, but that’s not possible for everybody. Robots can offer lots of extra help when it’s necessary. They can remember you, have conversations – even hold your hand – and never get tired or bored. What’s more, a robot’s programming makes it very trustworthy. It will always do as it is told.

Others think…

We shouldn’t trust them. Feelings are an important part of life. Robots are only friendly and helpful because that is how they are made. Their kindness is programmed and not real. They are not going to care about our problems once they are switched off. We can only trust real people to be friends and help us when we feel lonely.

You Decide

  1. Would you ever ask a robot for advice about a problem?

Activities

  1. Using recycled materials, build your own robot pet that could keep you company at home.

Some People Say...

“We are fascinated by robots because they are reflections of ourselves.”

Ken Goldberg, American artist, writer and inventor

What do you think?

Word Watch

Robots
The word comes from “robota”, a Czech word for slave.
Artificial intelligence
The ability of computers to think or have intelligence. The programs that run robots – often called “AI” for short – are what make it possible for robots to have realistic conversations with people.
Companionship
Another word for friendship. It describes the relationship between friends or companions.
Care homes
A place where people go to live when they are too old or too ill to look after themselves.
Programming
A program is a set of instructions that allows a computer to perform a task. When a robot is programmed, it is given instructions to make it do specific things and to behave in a certain way.
Mathematical equations
An expression in maths that contains an “equals” symbol.

Subjects

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