03 June 2021, The Tablet

Robot ethics and virtual friends

Robot ethics and virtual friends

Stevie II at the Science Gallery, Dublin, with Brendan Crean, who helped to trial the robot
Photo: Alamy/PA


Artificial intelligence and automation are transforming the way we live and work. Responding to the social, economic and religious impact these new technologies are making will be the defining challenge for the Church over the course of the next few decades

A robot developed in Japan called “Chapit”, which looks like a mouse, can sit at the bedside of a nursing home resident and engage them in rudimentary conversation. Another robot, “Robear”, has the appearance of a bear, and can lift a patient from the bed to a wheelchair and, later, return the patient to bed. “Palro”, a small humanoid robot, can run quizzes or lead a group of elderly people in exercise routines. At the Shintomi nursing home in Tokyo a robot called “Pepper” is used to care for and entertain the residents; it can also monitor the corridors during the night, so that employers do not have to take on security staff. The creators of these machines hope that they will be used in nursing homes across the world.

In November 2017 researchers at Trinity College Dublin launched a 5ft-tall robot called “Stevie”, which is able to engage in simple conversation and arrange video calls with family members. Its inventors believe it can reduce boredom and stimulate mental activity in older people. It can also remind them when to take their medication, which is particularly important for people who have memory issues. Stevie can also be programmed to recognise what is normal and abnormal behaviour for an elderly person and, if something goes wrong, it is able to notify a carer or relatives.

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