Companion robots have been trialled in care homes in the UK and Japan, but it is more generally believed by people working in the field that programming even the basic skills required to build a beneficial human relationship – empathy and attachment – are nigh on impossible and prohibitively expensive to reproduce in a robot.
Why does this matter? Surely even if we do not build a relationship with these robots they can feed us our pills, play us some music and even teach us a language, as the trialled robots can. But caring, even in this limited context, is rarely purely carrying out practical tasks. Caring is grounded in empathy. It is about reading someone’s expression as we hand them their pills and knowing that they are having a hard day, or chatting about their birthday plans with family. It is about using our own life experience to offer them support and understanding. It is about that biobehavioural synchrony. That meeting of human minds. The wonderful flood of neurochemicals that brighten our day and shore up our immune system.
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