Are Robots the Future of Therapy?

Are Robots the Future of Therapy?

This past week, arguably the most advanced humanoid robot so far to emerge amazed an audience by cracking jokes alongside Devi Sankaree Govender of Carte Blanche at the SAP Now Africa conference in Sandton. Who is this remarkable robot? Sophia is a robot, which has recently been garnering fame all over the world as she works to try and introduce people to the idea of robots being friends. In fact, the robot has a Twitter account and regularly talks publicly and on shows, using its refined machinery to imitate human emotions.

The ‘Uncanny Valley’ Theory

Sophia is constantly working to debunk the idea of the ‘uncanny valley’. This theory comes from Japanese engineer Masahiro Mori who made a hypothesis in 1970 stating that if an object closely resembles a human but isn’t perfect it can cause humans to feel uncomfortable. However looking at Sophia one can’t help but question this. Obviously, she still has a ways to go in terms of being completely interchangeable with an actual human but it’s a possible future. Sophia is also a member of a group of robots in the Loving AI project, which looks to use robots to provide people with unconditional love and comfort.

Will Sophia be the Answer To Are Robots the Future Of Therapy?

According to this initiatives website, a range of agents do this form of therapy using a variety of techniques including “conversations that adapt to the unique needs of each user while supporting integrative personal and rational development”. The chief scientist at the Hong Kong robotics firm Hanson Robotics, which happens to be the birthplace of Sophia, said to CNBC that its OpenCog software that allows Sophia to respond to humans efficiently as if she herself has experience in being a human. Goetzel is aiming for this technology to reach “artificial general intelligence” which essentially means the AIs interactive capability will be on the level of a human. However, his team also acknowledges that they are not even close to that level yet, but it does make you wonder if Sophia will be the answer to are robots the future of therapy?

As a part of the Loving AI programme, a group of volunteers took part in a series of tests, while doing this they were hooked up to devices that monitored their heart rates as they spoke to the AI. Sophia engaged in thoughtful conversations with the group of volunteers while an audience looked on. One website says that one session involved Sophia saying “don’t worry if you’re still conscious of your body, just notice the feeling of spacious emptiness”. Strange words, but it is clear how this type of talking could calm someone and possibly even put them in a hypnotic state. A big part of this projects startup is the idea that certain people may find it considerably easier to confess secrets or deep feelings to a robot, which is incapable of judgment over a human. With Sophia being so lifelike already the potential for this market of therapy definitely looks bright.

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