News and Tribune


June 16, 2014

CUMMINS: Robots will ease your pain

— As the human race continues racing to modernization, we face a perplexing dilemma. As we rely more on robots to serve us, how can they design them to be more like us? Do you have friends or family who seem off in the distance? I do and they respond to me as if they are in another world. They are. It’s the modern world, in which I am an alien. I can’t keep up with it, and feel vacant and alone as I yearn to reconnect again with other human beings.

As robots come crashing into our lives, designers are trying to install more human characteristics in their personalities. When it’s just you and your personal robot struggling to identify with society, you will want a warm and friendly “machine” to share your feelings with.

I’ve never actually seen a real live robot in action. All I know is what I read in papers. I do not rely on the Google screen to direct my life, but I do observe human behavior and find it rather creepy. Do you remember when we had normal conversations, interactions and transactions without using some sort of scientific device? It’s as if there’s no one to express our feelings to with our emotions and passions being sentenced to a kind of solitary prison.

Perhaps we should give science a chance, because if robots build our cars and work at Amazon to supply our needs, why can’t brilliant scientists program them to think and feel in a warm and friendly fashion. They’re working on it as recently reported in The Wall Street Journal where its staff knows everything. Top journalists have reported that robots currently have rudimentary thinking skills to work in places like data processing and banking, but will soon include jobs that are highly social and emotional such as driving taxis, serving as real estate agents, health-care assistants and sports referees. When a robotic umpire calls a base runner out, fans can shout, “It can’t see, kill the thing.” Umpires see things differently; robots see everything accurately. When you make a life mistake, you will be able to replay it on a screen.

But who wants to socially interact with an ugly and un-feeling robot? Researchers at MIT found that designing their popular robot, Nexi, more of a “baby face” with a round head, small chin and wide eyes appear more capable of feeling than robots with long chins. (Not making any of this up.) They also found that people are more willing to take medical advice from cuddly baby-faced robots. This development is very important to me as an elderly person with special needs. Child-faced robots are less likely to threaten the autonomy of elderly persons who will be primary users of robotic health care assistants. You know how hard it is to see an old long-faced doctor. Let a Drone deliver a childish medical robot to your door, opened by your cleaning-lady robot wearing a sweet face.

I remember when we doctored with home remedies, liver pills, salve and castor oil to clean you out. Your mother, deeply concerned and loving, held and rocked you back to health. No matter how my future robotic health-care assistant nurses me, I don’t want her touching me until I gain confidence in her maturity. However, you can’t rely on human beings like you used to. They have become mechanical by socially withdrawing into the cocoon that is Facebook.

When they deliver my robotic health-care aide, I’m going to name her “Awesome Senior.” A couple of years ago, when humans opened my heart, a new nurse came in during my agonizing recovery. “What is your name and will you help me,” I asked? She said, “Honey, you can just call me Awesome, and I’ll heal you if you don’t sweat the small stuff.” Since that day, my life has been awesome. I have perspired on occasion since then, but never in a cold sweat that would drain the vital signs from me. Sweating the small stuff is hard on the heart, and you gotta have heart to do most anything.

 As smiley-faced Awesome Senior bounces around the house injecting me with bio-medicines and needed implants, what if she runs into me, breaking a hip that goes into pneumonia and expiration? No problem, designers have programed robots with special kinds of “nerves” to prevent collisions. You must have the “nerve” to live in modern society and you should always avoid colliding with that which is de-humanizing.

— Contact Terry Cummins at



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