Babysitting robots take technology too far

Sally Yoo
Sally Yoo

Imagine sleepily descending the stairs in your home as a child, ready to join the family for breakfast before their various commitments. Your mother calls a hasty goodbye as she dashes out the door for work and you’re given just enough time to offer a response before sitting down to a hearty breakfast cooked by your robotic mom. This seems like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie in which all parents have been replaced with automaton imposters, but this may in fact be our future.
An article in Psychology Today chronicles the Healthy-Genius Corporation’s mission to “free working parents from any guilt” about spending insufficient time with their children. To do so they created several types of robots, including a robot named Aunt Trudy who’s responsible for monitoring the child’s moves and vital signs, and an Uncle Jim who “loves cigars but isn’t allowed to smoke inside the house.”
Though still in the testing phase, these robots would serve to make many working parents’ lives easier. But should they? Is replacing parents really a rational solution to not spending enough time with your kids? Doing so would likely all but obliterate the relationship between the child and their biological parents, as well as alter our definition of what constitutes the nuclear family. While advances in technology have undoubtedly improved our life and well-being, the results of our dependence upon it may not be so positive.
The robots described above are certainly not the first instances of human inventions geared towards decreasing effort and increasing efficiency. Brands such as Toyota and Lincoln are both in the process of developing self-driven cars, and a Forbes article confirms that such vehicles are already being used in the United Kingdom to shuttle passengers to and from Heathrow Airport. This clearly isn’t our first attempt.
These inventions represent a desire on our part for technology to encompass every aspect of our lives, and doing so carries some negative aftereffects. Many experts believe that this dependence can harm us psychologically, making us more impatient, forgetful and selfish. In The New York Times, Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, director of the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford said we’re “paying a price in terms of our cognitive life because of this virtual lifestyle.”
We can see this ourselves on campus and in our homes as we begrudgingly talk to those around us, forcing a few words out before a tinny beep from our phones gives us another chance to evade reality.
While our nation is just beginning to explore the use of robots to fulfill human tasks, one country in particular is already well ahead. Japan is already home to 40 percent of the world’s industrial robots, according to Reuters, and their need for robots is steadily increasing as their aging population predicts a decline in the labor force. The use of robots in homes and factories is certain to make life easier, but what options exist for the aging population who can no longer work for wages to support them? Simply cutting them out of the picture isn’t a solution if it’s causing yet another problem.
I realize that as I’m typing these words on my computer in a room both lit and warmed by electricity, some may think I’m being a hypocrite. And in some ways I might be. But unlike a hypocrite, I recognize the value of the very thing I’m criticizing. Technology has helped bring families together across borders and oceans, helping light the beacon of knowledge in young minds that were doomed to be swallowed by the darkness of ignorance. I feel exceptionally lucky to enjoy such boons. But the line must be drawn when these advances cease to make our lives easier and do the living for us instead. In doing so our existence contains less action and intention, becoming meaningless in the process.
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