Robot Empathy?

Because I know people all across the globe are wondering if I have acquired a smartphone yet, I can clear up the matter right now.

I still don’t have a smartphone. The residents and medical students on my team were sort of talking them up, although I gotta tell you there was not 100% agreement on their utility. They tell me you have to plug them in every day to charge them.

Palm Pilot, Yesteryear's SmartPhone

Palm Pilot, Yesteryear’s SmartPhone

One of the medical students told me you can use them to look up information on medications using software like Epocrates. I mentioned that I used to own a personal digital assistant (PDA) for that. There were a couple of puzzled looks and a very clever comment about how old that must make me. I can’t recall what it was exactly–the power of denial.

So I’m a little behind when it comes to technology. This reminds me of a new thing called an “emo robot.” I’m almost afraid to call it a gadget.

This is a mechanism which its makers describe using words like empathy and love–as thought it could feel those emotions. They call it “Pepper,” and it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at in terms of computer sophistication. They say it could change our lives as much as the mobile phone did.Pepper the Emo Robot

Would you pay $2,000 for it? I suppose that’s a bargain given all the money that must have gone into research and development. Affection from artificial intelligence doesn’t come cheap. How far could they go with Pepper?

They say Pepper is powered by love and will make you laugh. And they claim he can read your facial expressions and respond appropriately and autonomously. He can do rap music, which ironically sounds like a step backward in evolution to a geezer like me.

But wait, he can comfort the sad and lonely. Pepper can tell jokes. I wonder if he could evolve.

Could Pepper conduct a psychiatric interview? Probably, in a collaborative care setting. Would Pepper mind being a puppet of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) and the specialty medical boards and putting up with the Maintenance of Certification (MOC)? Maybe not, unless  he got angry.

Did I mention I don’t have a smartphone yet?




  1. Around 5 years ago, I was at a talk at MIT given by Rosalind Picard, who runs an AI lab there. She developed software, originally intended for robot/AI use, that could read facial expressions, and she demonstrated it at the talk. That software was eventually used to develop glasses for children and adolescents with autism/aspergers. The glasses flash green when the people these children are trying to talk to are interested in talking, and red when they aren’t. So there’s some good that can come from technology.
    Pepper seems like a lot of hype, but there are also robot pet animals that are affectionate, but don’t require care, so people with physical disabilities can benefit from the emotional experience.
    My general feeling about technology is that when it works, it’s great, and when it doesn’t, you’re so much better off with pen and paper.

    Liked by 1 person

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