Back in the 1960s, famous science fiction author Ray Bradbury penned a short story about a little girl named Agatha whose mother had tragically died. Agatha’s father, knowing that his daughter needed a mother, went out and got an “Electric Grandmother.” A robot.
Agatha, afraid of making any emotional bond that might end with another sudden loss resists the love and companionship of her Electrical Grandmother as a replacement for her dead mother…until the robot demonstrates her intrinsic immortality.
Science and technology have just about caught up to Mr. Bradbury’s Electric Grandmother.
The European Commission’s “Beyond Robotics” project workbook states its mission as “Developing cognitive robots whose ‘purpose in life’ would be to serve humans as assistants or ‘companions.’ Such robots would be able to learn new skills and tasks in an active open-ended way and to grow in constant interaction and co-operation with humans.”
Governments and private universities, as well as corporations, have been working hard to meld the technologies of artificial intelligence with advanced robotics. The ultimate goal is to create an interactive mobile intelligence that can work, play and relate to human beings.
The very nature of that goal demands that robots are endowed with cognitive capacity. It will have to react to changing environments, emotions, situations and tasks. The ability to grow, learn and incorporate new data into what has already been digested will be critical.
Cognitive robot companions must have the capability to interpret its surroundings while adapting to new experiences and—most of all—its human partner. Researchers recognize that future robotic companions must also be able to adapt and respond to a human’s needs.
Companionable is one of the companies that is working to bring cognitive robot companions to market. As Western countries’ populations age and lifespans lengthen, the need for robot companions will increase.
Among the things that cognitive robot companions will need to master are such areas as communication, reasoning, sociability, and responding to moods.
For Companionable—a company seeking to provide cognitive robot companions that will assist caregivers tending to people in hospices, or the infirm or elderly in their residences—the mission critical capabilities will be focused on the skills needed for that kind of symbiotic relationship.
On their corporate website, the company states they seek to “provide the synergy of Robotics and Ambient Intelligence technologies and their semantic integration to provide for a care-giver’s assistive environment. This will support the cognitive stimulation and therapy management of the care-recipient. This is mediated by a robotic companion (mobile facilitation) working collaboratively with a smart home environment (stationary facilitation).”
The Cognitive Robot Companion (COGNIRON) Project has objectives that must incorporate all the basic things that make a human feel comfortable with another human. Researchers expect that eventually actual friendships will develop between humans and their artificial creatures.
Once that is realized, they assert, robots will become true, valued companions.