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It Does Not Compute: Danger Danger in New Robotics

The New York Times had a story the other day about two robots (Nao and iCat) that have been programmed to teach children to avoid overeating. Developed by the TNO research institute in Delft (Netherlands) and by Aldebaran Robotics of Paris (France), the robots are about two feet tall, can see and talk and even mimic emotions such as empathy through their moving facial features.


According to the story, the goal is to help build emotional ties with young children which would allow (among other things), the robots to step in and help kids to eat better. Oy. In fact, double oy.

We’re first in line to agree that our kids are developing all sorts of eating problems, including not having a clue about what to eat and what to avoid, as well as figuring out how to do the right thing even once they know what it might be. But come on! Do we really want to shun our human adult parental responsibility to teach kids through our example?

What kind of society neglects this core obligation of our species to nurture our young by providing the information they need to understand that what we eat is converted into who we are? Robots
may be cute and kind of cool, and perhaps a friendly reminder that it’s time to take a bath or take some needed medication is alright, but not something as basic as eating.

Eating forms the cultural, societal and personal underpinning of our lives. To continue traditions that have endured for thousands of years and to form the bonds that create intergenerational memory, there must be human interaction. That means, us, the parents, showing, telling and teaching.

Let’s not go further down the path to being a species that cannot be bothered to teach our children this most important aspect of living. Instead, let’s wake up and be the role models our kids clearly need so much.