Rise of the sexbots

Robots as aid in housekeeping, robots to cuddle with, as fighting machines or to have sex with. Beware, the think tank Rathenau Institute warns, the dawn of the robots is coming.

‘Robots everywhere’ is the title of the report presented by the Rathenau Institute last week. Delft robotic expert, Professor Pieter Jonker (MMME faculty), contributed to the report. In an article in NRC Handelsblad he says that soon, owing to the aging of the population, there will be no escaping social robots.

But will robots be advanced enough to be completely autonomous and thus really able to take care of us? “Let me start by saying that you should consider robots as sidekicks, like Snowy is for Tintin or Robin for Batman. The robot will act as a help. It can keep an eye on an elderly person, if it is able to pick up objects it can do the housekeeping, and it can also serve as a moving agenda and memory aid,” says Prof. Jonker, who believes that in a few years his robotic laboratory will have such a robot ready for the elderly care. Their forerunner now is Robbie, a robot on wheels that - in a short video Jonker shows – acts as a doctor’s assistant, welcoming patients and fetching coffee.

Robbie has quite some artificial intelligence in him. He can recognize faces, objects and voices. And he can learn to recognize new objects. Other robots Jonker and his colleagues are working on – walking and running robots – have the capability to learn new movements.

“Ultimately we want to make a walking robot for care-giving,” he adds. “For this we should combine the different types of robots we have in the lab. But the walking bots are still not stable enough. You don’t want situations in which elderly persons have to redress the robot.”

And what about the dangers? Some time ago there was quite an aggressive robot, a soccer-playing robot that almost kicked a photographer lying on the ground. He mistook his head for the ball.

Prof. Jonker laughs: “Yes but that was about ten years ago. The software for recognition is much more sophisticated now. Developments are going fast. With the booming smart phone and tablet industry, processors are becoming smaller and more powerful.”

The Rathenau Institute is afraid that people will become socially isolated if they are surrounded solely by robots, especially if we will also see the rise of the sexbots.
“I’m not too worried about that. What is good about it is that you can with common decency exchange partners,” Prof Jonker says, laughing. “You just exchange robots. No, but seriously, with robots it’s just like with everything else which keeps people busy. I have spent days in a row reading books or doing computer programming. And then at a certain point I realised that I should go out and mingle with people. With robots it will be just the same.”