1. Introduction

What do you think of when the word “robots” come to your mind? If you think they are the machines that you see in a movie or read about in a science fiction novel, think again. Robots are the largest growing technological devices in the world. They perform many functions ranging from space exploration to entertainment. According to scientist, in the future, robots will be doing our yard work, taking over some of our jobs, and monitoring our health on a daily basis. Does it sound unbelievable? This might just be the kind of world our descendents will grow up in.

It’s hard not to think about having our lives changed by the introduction of these new robots. As for the household aspect, computers will make our daily drudgery of housework dramatically more interesting. In the next decade robots should be cleaning our floors, mowing our lawns, and even taking care of our children while we are away at work. Robots will be an integral part of our lives.

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2. What are Child-care robots?

A babysitter or companion on call round the clock to supervise and entertain the kids is the dream of many working parents. Now, robot manufacturers in Japan and South Korea are racing to fulfil those parents’ dreams with affordable robots which will act as nannies to their children. These robots will be equipped with game playing, quizzes, speech recognition, face recognition and limited conversation to capture the preschool child’s interest and attention. Their mobility and semi-autonomous function combined with facilities for visual and auditory monitoring are designed to keep the child from harm.

Parents would be able to use these robots as means to keep a look out for their children while they are away at work. These robots will also be a means in which parents will communicate with their kids as the robots will be equipped with a mobile phone where parents would be able to call and speak directly to their children through the robot or send short messages which would be read out by the robot to their children.

3. Technologies involved in Child-care robots

Child-care robots will be equipped with cameras for parents to be able to monitor their children at all time and to make sure that they are safe and are interacting well with the robot. There will also be a mobile phone installed into the robot for parents to keep in voice contact with their children.

Other than the more visible technological elements of the robots, it is what is behind the plastic outer shell of the robot which matters. The Artificial Intelligence of these robots would be of a very high level and they will be equipped with face recognition technology and the robot will be able to form a bond with the person in which it has continually come in contact with on a daily basis. The functions that the “nanny” robots would be able to perform are only limited to one’s imagination and as long as technology continues to improve; the boundaries of the tasks that they will be able to carry out will continually be pushed.

4. Issues Child-care robots may bring about

Although child-care robots will be able to substitute the role of a parent for the time that parents are away from home, would there be any implications on the wellbeing of the child due to the presence of these robots. I will now analyze the various issues child-care robots may bring about.

4.1 Safety of children

An extremely important factor for consumers is that they trust child-care robots to keep their children safe from harm. The main way that parents could ensure this is through mobile monitoring, where they can watch their children at all times. An additional way to increase supervision of their children from the office, parents would be able to upload a customized map of their homes to the robot so that it can recognize danger areas where it would try to restrict the child from going to.

If the robot is programmed to identify dangerous situations, it would most probably also be programmed to take steps to avoid the child from getting into the situation. In other words, the robot would be restraining the child from committing an act deemed harmful by the robot, because of the way it was programmed, even though it would not be deemed harmful by the parent itself. Imagine a robot taking a sweet away from a child because it deems that sweets will eventually cause diabetes.

Maintaining the safety of a child must be done but the robot must not be an authoritarian who stops children from expressing themselves or doing what they want to do. A line must be drawn somewhere, maybe parents would be able to program how strict their robots must be but we have to keep in mind that we cannot plan for every single scenario and program the robot in certain way. Sometimes, we must wait for a situation to arise before we will be able to see how the robot and child reacts to it.

4.2 Robot – Child Relationship

Another extremely important factor in the use of child-care robots is how receptive children will be to the robots as well as whether the child would be able to form a bond with the robot. Studies have shown that children from a very young age would form a very close bond to their toys. In some cases, they would not go to sleep without their favourite “teddy” or will not play with any other toy except for their favourite ones.

Now, with the robot being able to listen and speak to them and feel their touch, children would regard their robots as their friends and they would feel that they would have formed relationships with their robots. However, the issue will arise with children whom from a very young age grow up to think that the relationship they had with their robots are genuine human relations. These children would have been drawn into the false relationship by their parents and there could possibly be harmful effects on the child either psychologically or emotionally.

4.3 Emotional & Psychological Risks

It is possible that children who are brought up fully or partially by the care of a robot will be affected in their social and emotional development. It is understood that a baby has a very close relationship with his/her mother when the baby is born till the baby is quite old. There will be a special emotional connection between the child and the mother and no robot would be able to substitute the mother of the child and have that same emotional relationship

When the baby is brought up by its care giving robot, it would not feel the same emotional bond towards the robot and thus will not have a strong emotional feeling toward the robot which would hinder the child’s emotional growth as the child grows up. Another factor which may drive the child into a shell is that robots, unlike humans, will not be able to read expressions on our faces. They rely on the tone of our voices or feel our touch. They would not be able to process tears from the child’s eyes and would not be able to identify if anything is wrong and would really hurt the child emotionally as well as psychologically.

5. Conclusion

The technology for a child-care robot is not very far from being achieved. Companies are working doubly hard to try to come out with a robot which will really change the face of Artificial Intelligence out there in the market today. These robots would be able to interact with humans much more than anything before. However, there are many worrying factors that point to not being over reliant on these robots if they ever do hit the shelves.

I feel that robots, even though programmed to handle any scenario which it comes across in bringing up a child, will never be able to substitute the human touch aspect of bringing up a child. A human being is far more superior to a robot in bringing up a child. Even though people may argue that child-care robot will only take care of the child when parents are away at work, that period of time is enough to affect the growth of the child and being at a child care centre, interacting with other children their age as well as having someone to look after them at the centres would be more beneficial to them.

No matter how many people resist the usage of the child-care robots, it would most likely be that the majority of people will see more benefits than harm in it and by using these child-care robots it would be the dawn of the time of Artificial Intelligence in households.