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A word of advice: tip your robot waiter

by Paul Jay, CBC News Online

Sure, we make fun of Asimo every now and then, but we here at the CBC we love robots as much as the next group bloggers. Our office even has its own mail-robot. So naturally, when University of Tokyo researchers create a tea-serving robot, it sends our kettles a' tootin.

But we can't say we're quite behind the mindset behind the creation of this particular tea-server. As University of Tokyo professor Tomomasa Sato explains:

"A human being may be faster, but you'd have to say 'Thank you.' That's the best part about a robot. You don't have to feel bad about asking it to do things."

As the Associated Press story explains:

Sato believes Japan, a rapidly aging society where more than a fifth of the population is 65 or older, will lead the world in designing robots to care for the elderly, sick and bedridden.

The idea of building a labour force of uncaring robots is scary in its own right, especially given recent efforts to come up with robotic military vehicles through contests in Singapore and the U.S.

But when it comes to personal-care robots, Sato's vision flies in the face of research which strives to make "care-giving" bots that can "feel" and interact on a more emotional level. A panel of roboticists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco on February 17th said such companion robots could be avilable within 10 years.

As MIT roboticist Cynthia Breazeal said:

"Emotion plays an important role in guiding attention towards what is important and away from distractions....It allows the robot to make better decisions, learn more effectively and interact more appropriately."

Perhaps you should say thank you to the tea-serving robot after all. And maybe leave it a healthy tip. Just in case.

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Posted June 1, 2009 12:24 PM

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