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Monday, July 28, 2014

U.S. Government Invests in Robot Personal Trainers for Children

Nicholas West

The evolution of humanoid robots continues to quicken with greater strides being made toward applying artificial intelligence to create emotional robots.  

The commitment to reverse engineer the human brain coupled with the exponential increase in computing power is now forcing the discussion toward the social impact robotics is beginning to have as humans and robots begin interacting with greater frequency. 

Consequently, newer robots are being produced with the intention of manipulating emotional triggers that guide human-to-human interaction. It's all part of a move to make robots seem less creepy and more like real members of society. Researchers are taking multiple angles to establish these connections. The U.S. government is now getting involved with a $10 million investment into developing robots that can serve as personal trainers for children with the stated intention to "influence their behavior and eating habits." 

In loco parentis (in the place of a parent) - the legal charge given to educators when you hand over your children to school - might take on a strange new meaning. A 5-year, multi-university project is being led by Yale and includes researchers from MIT, Stanford and the University of Southern California; it is funded by the National Science Foundation, which has fallen under the umbrella of the federal BRAIN neuroscience initiative.

The ultimate goal of the "Robots Helping Kids" project is to send robots into homes and schools to provide children with education as well as fitness. This comes at a time when we have witnessed a push by America's first lady toward controlling what children eat as well as introducing her concept of fitness; the results have been underwhelming to say the least.

A Yale press release doesn't hide the fact that they are looking to robots for additional help with social engineering:

A Yale-led research team will spend the next five years developing a new breed of sophisticated “socially assistive” robots for helping young children learn to read, appreciate physical fitness, overcome cognitive disabilities, and perform physical exercises.
The purpose of the $10 million, federally funded effort, announced April 3, is to create self-adapting machines capable of cultivating long-term interpersonal relationships and assisting pre-school-age children with educational and therapeutic goals.
“The big idea is that we’re building robots to help kids,” said Brian Scassellati, the Yale computer scientist who is leading the intensive, multi-university project. “At the end of five years we’d like to have robots that can guide a child toward long-term educational goals, be customized for the particular needs of that child, and basically grow and develop with the child. We want the robot to be the equivalent of a good personal trainer.”

The language used here is disturbing. While at once it is claimed that these robots will only augment the instruction of parents, trained educators, and therapists, the targeting of pre-school-age children for "cultivating long-term personal relationships" to "motivate individuals toward a specific goal" while the robots "guide the child toward a behavior we desire" clearly opens the door for more training than merely the physical.

As if government-run school isn't brainwashing enough, now a literal programmed entity filled with all of the indoctrination of that system will be able to devote full-time - in school and at home - to ensure whatever it is the programmers wish to send their way.

What could possibly go wrong?  


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