Robots: better than neglect

I’ve just been reading Sherry Turkle‘s book Alone Together, why we expect more from technology and less from each other. It’s a good contrast with Jane McGonigal‘s Reality is Broken. The latter is all about how games can bring out the best in us, the former about how technology is not a universal panacea (Ok those two things are quite separate, I could have drawn a description that would have depicted the two positions as complete opposites but I didn’t).

Though Sherry argues that the effects of modern technology on children needs to be more carefully thought out, I was struck by the parents checking their e-mail so constantly that the children never feel they get any attention. Robots (hypothetical for now) are preferred because

“A robot would remember everything I said. It might not understand everything but remembering is a first step. My father, talking to me while on his Blackberry, he doesn’t know what I said, so it’s not much use that if he did know, he might understand.”

A robot would cook me a proper dinner and not give me  cereal for supper.

Speaking of robots that will exist sooner, to look after elderly people, Sherry pointed out that we seem to be starting from the assumption that, even with unemployment through the roof, we will not have the time and resources to have people looking after older people, so we should give them robot companions and robot nurses. But as Sherry quotes Apppiah: the options are shaped by the question, we need to challenge which question is posed and ask what care we want to provide.

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