OMG – is this what the world has been waiting for?
Meet iPal: a child-sized robot that’s been designed specifically to take on adult responsibilities. Yep, that’s right.
The 3-foot tall robot can sing dance, play games and ask questions like: “Why is the sun hot?” – and has a monitor in its chest so grown-ups can keep track of their kids while in iPal’s capable (if stiffly robotic) hands.
Now before you get all excited/worried thinking these computerised dudes are gonna mean real-life parents are dispensed with completely – don’t panic.
They have been designed for kids for sure – but more to be a spot of entertainment for a couple of hours while mum and dad are close at hand elsewhere in the house – rather than replacing the human race of its offspring duties entirely.
What do the experts say?
As you’d imagine, opinion is divided on the virtues or otherwise of using artificially intelligent androids to look after children, even sporadically.
Spokespeople for AvatarMind, responsible for iPal, told The Guardian that the robot is meant mainly for “companionship” and pointed out that: “A lot of parents hand an iPad to kids to keep them quiet. This is more interactive.”
On the other hand, robotics professor Noel Sharkey of Sheffield University can see danger ahead if these computer-sitters become commonplace:
“Robots are a great educational tool for children. It inspires them to learn about science and engineering.
“But there are significant dangers in having robots mind our children. They do not have the sensitivity or understanding needed for childcare.”
Well, yeah, exactly. And just what would they do if your child goes to touch a plug, puts something in their mouth they shouldn’t or is sad about something or needs help and advice? In all honesty – probably not much.
What do the kids think?
When you ask the target audience in question (the kids) what they think about iPal though – they’re pretty agreed on the fact they adore him.
When the robot was tested in China, 85% of children said they loved iPal, 15% had no reaction and 5% found him scary.
Here at MFM HQ, we have to say – we agree that our little ones would probably find him a novelty for a couple of hours – but after that, we’re not so sure.
Probably for the best anyway – this guy’s pretty state of the art so don’t expect him in the shops here any time soon.
What do you think?
Would you be happy to let your child hang out with a robot as a companion for a couple of hours while you got on with other stuff around the house?
Is it basically not much different from TV or an iPad to keep them entertained?
Tell us over on Facebook