8 April 2018 - Hello Robot

A recent city trip to Ghent was planned to be a relaxing weekend away filled with architecture, beer and chocolate and not necessarily in that order... 

As an added bonus, on our last day, before jumping on the train homeward bound we visited the local Design Museum and stumbled upon the Hello Robot exhibition to find a well curated feature. 

It started off with some statements collected on how we feel about the prospect of robots coming into our lives and the impact they could make. 

Humans have, for a long time, feared anything related to automation, even from the first industrial revolution, with the onset of looms and steam engines, to more recent developments with computers and the internet, and the potential that machines will take away our livelihoods. In some respect, the human has a point to be concerned. Indeed, automation has reduced the need for human input while producing quality, reliable products without demanding a lunch break. 

The human input at work has changed as we continue to replace repeatable tasks now done by a machine. In the home we have machines such as washing machines and dishwashers to provide convenience and they are a god send. 

Surely this is a positive aspect, allowing the human to focus on more meaningful activities?

The exhibition moves on the ask how much contact we have had with robots in our lives. We are presented with images of robots imagined from TV and films eras over time, from Metropolis, Terminator, R2-D2 and various Transformers. These robots were styled in different forms, from a humanoid appearance, a car, a killing machine, to a round topped dustbin. 

But how do robots interact with us in our everyday lives and are we aware of their input? We are now getting used to interacting with chatbots; AI is learning with every transaction to help deliver more precise information and services to us. 

We are now utterly reliant on our devices in our pocket to make our lives more convenient. They tell us how to navigate foreign locales, remind us of friend's birthdays and provide any information you can think of. They are making us look dumb. 

But how much of technology do we think we control and how much of it now rules us? look at the average commuter and most will be glued to a smart phone, an item we didn’t know we needed 10 short years ago. And now, we can’t put them down. We are forever at its beck and call, answer me, read me, respond to this, charge me...

There are continued developments to create robots to help us in the home with a question being asked, how would you feel if a robot cared for you? There are items in everyday homes that provide special care services, whether they been pseudo baby-sitting, shopping assistants and even sexual healing. 

Small steps are already being taken to assist the wellbeing of dementia sufferers using stuffed toy animals with a computer chip inside which reacts with noises when the patient strokes the item, as it would a familiar pet animal. Here the robot replaces their old pet memories and this provides comfort. 

The exhibition then asks how do we feel about us morphing into robots with the view on how technology is enabling those who are disabled to strap on robotic legs to walk again or to apply a robotic hand to grasp an item with sensors to feel the object too. 

Whatever we feel about technology, the rise of robots is only going to grow. It’s how we choose to interact with them and how we allow them to play a part in our work that will prove the most exciting part of this journey. 


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