Are robots future playmates for kids?


Will this robot someday be a child's best friend? (Photo credit: glemak)

An article from LiveScience talks about recent studies that find kids can get along pretty well with robots as playmates:

As technology continues to improve, human-like robots will likely play an ever-increasing role in our lives: They may become tutors for children, caretakers for the elderly, office receptionists or even housemaids. Children will come of age with these androids, which naturally raises the question: What kind of relationships will kids build with personified robots?

Children will view humanoid robots as intelligent social and moral beings, allowing them to develop substantial and meaningful relationships with the machines, new research suggests.

Researchers analyzed the interactions between nearly 100 children and Robovie, a 3-foot-tall (0.9 meters) robot developed by the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute in Japan. In the study, two technicians controlled Robovie remotely from another room, leading the children to believe that the robot was autonomous. The researchers imparted humanlike behavior to the robot, such as having Robovie claim unfair treatment when he was told to go into the closet at the end of the interaction sessions.

After reading the LiveScience question is, is this a good idea? I know positive results have been found for kids with Autism, who are able to transfer skills practiced with robots on to other humans, but for healthy kids is this really as beneficial? The scientists don’t seem too concerned:

…the researchers think that the results have important implications for the design of future robots. If engineers design robots to simply obey orders, the master-servant relationship that children experience may trickle into their interactions with other humans. Is it then better to design robots with the ability to “push back” as Robovie did when he was instructed to go into the closet?

Shen said there is no easy answer to which design scheme is better.

“I don’t think children will treat robots as nonsocial beings, they will treat them as social actors and interact with them in social ways,” she said. “But we need more data and evidence to see how adults, as well as children, will develop relationships with these robots.”

What do you think? Is this a good idea? The elderly in Japan do seem to benefit from having robot pets. Could the same be true for kids?