A COUNSELING ROBOT

Rashmi, Sophia,  Ursula, Topio, Nao, Enon and Atlas are proud to belong to the same fraternity. They are miles apart from each other and have never got the opportunity to interact. But, all of them are quite skilful in their jobs and have earned much name and fame. They are, however, highly achievement-oriented and strive hard to improve their skills with each passing day. Though they are unaware of each other’s existence, someday they are sure to share the stage – maybe hold hands and proudly wave at the world flashing beaming smiles with glistening teeth to the thunderous applause of us all.

Well, if you haven’t been able to figure out the identities of those mentioned above, they are Humanoid Robots. They have human looks with a head, a torso, two hands and two legs and are programmed for higher order functioning like problem solving, decision making, identifying emotions, etc. – just as human beings do. Their programmers are thrilled at the success of these robots programmed with Artificial Intelligence.

In fact, the humanoid NAO robot has given its first interactive motivational interview few months back, thus making psychologists think if robots could be Counselors! Participants who attended the session in the University of Plymouth were very satisfied with the experience as NAO was very patient, didn’t interrupt in between and was non-judgmental. Well, aren’t these skills supposed to be some of the defining characteristics of Counselors! Tough competition awaits ahead, Counselors!!

As of today, there still are people (mostly in traditional cultures) who are not open to seeking Counseling for the problems they face. They prefer to whine away to death than to be helped to revive and blossom. In a country like India, we encounter lots of denials and hesitation to seek professional help for fear of social taboo, elders-know-best attitude and the deep-rooted understanding that dirty linen should never be taken outdoors. Though people in metro cities are becoming marginally aware and open to Counseling and Counselors are having their presence felt, people in other parts of the country are still not open to the whole idea.

In such a mixed world order, enter Humanoid Robots promising to be good and effective Counselors! One never knows – it may actually help. After all, for some it is easier ventilating before a machine than before a human. No risk of judgmental statements, no risk of leakage of information shared, patient uninterrupted hearing and encouraging suggestions in return. There may soon even be a hug, a pat and a wiping off of tears! All in place. Excellent!

Everything said and done, it is for humans to ponder if it is worth trading life and blood for lifeless ease. We are increasingly progressing into a world of clicks and commands, start-ups and profits, lure of comforts and the attraction of products – all from one’s own living room. Not identifying with technology is perhaps something that is limited to very few geographic pockets of the world today. With such seemingly all-pervasive technological tentacles, the fear of fading human warmth looms large. As such, people need to be encouraged to be sensitive to the emotions of others, to be understanding, etc. etc. And now with the advent of Humanoid Counselors, humans are soon expected to be aliens to their own emotions.

 If you’ve watched Home Alone 4, you wouldn’t have missed observing how Natalie’s luxurious mansion functioned! Remote-controlled doors that open and close with the commands Door Open and Door Close respectively,  a rotating library that turns 180 degrees to expose a bar at the command Open Sesame, cleaning done with the commands Vacuum On and Vacuum Off are the operational features of the mansion. And how happy Kevin, the kiddo is, to have a room full of large screen games of different types! Soon however, he misses the presence of his mom, dad and siblings.

Technology sure does ease man’s labour! Lifeless technology though promises to make life comfortable and liveable, would be a poor replacement to life and blood. We may have Humanoid Counselors, Humanoid parents to supervise children, Humanoid teachers in classrooms and so on, but it sure is a dangerous trade.

There is no escape to the advent of robots and Robotics. The present generation of school-goers find all things manual to be dull, drab and monotonous. Technology allures. Mechanics entice. With pre-teens and teens engrossed in robotics today, the future is bright for a world largely operated by robots.

However as of today, I find it unimaginable for me to have to share my heartaches with a Humanoid Counselor and expect human solutions from an object who has never been human. I would freak out if I were led to a Counseling room to find a robot on the chair as my helper. But, then this leap is on the cards for sure. A few decades before, people commuting to different countries in ships didn’t imagine that airplanes would be the order of the day decades later. And we humans are quick to adopt ease and adapt to it. The younger generation of tomorrow would gladly welcome robot friends and would not wince a bit to discard human aid.

There is no escaping to Robotics. However, till we can, lets strive to keep our humanness intact and encourage others to live up to be the humans they were created in the very first place. Because, when man fiddles with humanity itself, God steps out in His own way to show who truly is the one in control!

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