What is the relationship between artificial intelligence and emotion? That is a big question that is the subject of much discussion in Silicon Valley as big technology companies are on the cusp the next sweeping change in society that could transform everyday life as much as the computer and internet did in the 1980s and 1990s. This subject was also discussed by a group of seniors and professionals in Albany recently following a workshop some had attended at the national meeting of the Village to Village Network in San Diego in October. Presenters there described how robots in the form of pet animals are keeping older people company as well as other robots providing reminders throughout the day to take medications at certain hours and other inquiries. Nursing homes are beginning to use the robots too to assist with some tasks.
Of course, the most recognizable form of artificial intelligence for many persons is the personal assistant such as Alexa from Amazon which answers questions and gets information with a voice command. Robots though can be super Alexas and personal assistants who have the ability to be programmed to do things that humans sometimes can’t do, such as helping an immobile older person in a wheelchair being able to more quickly retrieve something or finding something for a person with limited vision.
The issue of emotion though is one that is getting a lot of attention. In the group discussion in Albany, some were uncomfortable with the idea that a robot would replace human contact. After all, a robot cannot assess a living environment or a person’s full social and service needs. Yet, many older persons who have been using the robot animals became attached to them as they would a pet because the robot was always there and had been programmed to provide conversation.
Many of us want to learn more about this evolving technology and it is probably a good idea in every community to arrange workshops with local health providers and technology companies representatives to discuss issues. We probably should all keep an open mind. We probably are all uncomfortable with the idea that machines will be able to replace humans with many tasks but human contact and human direction remains most important while using technology as an aid not a master.