Robots with feelings phone home

Abraham Maslow explored the 'farther reaches of human nature' with a positive psychology of motivation; now, robot psychology is being used industrially to guide motivation of android helpmates.

Groups around the world are now developing robots that have basic emotions in a bid to motivate the machines.

This news from meetings at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences offers a very mechanistic view of emotions: 'Essentially human emotions are a series of electrical and chemical signals that are interpreted by our brains to produce a particular feeling. This emotion then drives a series of decisions about what to do next. In the same way Prof Breazeal has programmed her robot to interpret electronic signals as emotions that then spark a physical reaction such as a change in facial expression, voice and even posture.'

For now, the motivation is limited to better performing household tasks:

'The past five years has seen dramatic leaps in technology needed to build better robots. Artificial intelligence has made it possible to create robots that can solve problems and learn. Sony has already produced a robot dog, Aibo, that learns behaviour from its owner's commands and can recognise faces.

Electronics firm Honda has taken the technology even further with its humanoid robot Asimo, which can carry out complex movements such as dancing, dodge traffic on a busy road and even mimic human movements.

Other firms are developing "nursebots" and robots capable of basic surgery in an effort to reduce the burden on health care staff.'

Passing the Turing test will surely not be too far along after that. And the very instrumental view of robotic intelligence may undergo a change.

The next frontier, I predict, once the technology has evolved, will be AI and spirituality.

Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen offers general corporate legal services, litigation consultation, and expertise in health law with a unique focus on alternative, complementary, and integrative medical therapies.

Michael H. Cohen is Principal in Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen and also President of the Institute for Integrative and Energy Medicine (also known as the Institute for Health, Ethics, Law, Policy & Society), a forum for exploration of legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues involved in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, massage therapy, herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care. The most recent published book by Michael H. Cohen on health care law, regulation, ethics and policy pertaining to complementary, alternative and integrative medicine and related fields is Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion. This is the fourth book in a series, following Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998), Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution (2000), and Future Medicine: Ethical Dilemmas, Regulatory Challenges, and Therapeutic Pathways to Health Care and Healing in Human Transformation (2003).

Health care and corporate lawyer Michael H. Cohen has also been admitted to the Bar of England and Wales as a Solicitor (non-practicing), adding to Bar membership in four U.S. states.