June 19, 2020
Social Robots: The Cure to Quarantine Loneliness?
A toy robot constructed from cardboard boxesSource: Envato Elements
Have months of quarantine left you longing for social interaction? Look no further. Social robots are on their way.
Who needs human friends, anyways? They disappoint us.
“I don’t need friends, they disappoint me.”Source: I don’t need friends, They disappoint me | Ezra James
In all seriousness, social distancing can have detrimental effects on your mental and physical health, says an International Social Psychiatry Journal article published in April.
“The timelines of the growing pandemic being uncertain, the isolation is compounded by mass panic and anxiety,” the article says. “Crisis often affects the human mind in crucial ways, enhancing threat arousal and snowballing the anxiety.”
Although the internet has softened the blow of physical isolation, many are struggling with the idea of “having to live with oneself,” the article explains. The lack of face-to-face contact has placed stress on relationships with friends, families, lovers, and colleagues.
Prolonged loneliness also correlates with increased-rates of depression and suicide, the article adds. Anxiety, chronic stress, adjustment disorder, and insomnia are additional complications of isolation.
Social Robots Save the Day
The market for social robots is expected to reach $643 million by 2025 and continues to grow by 15.6 percent annually, according to a recent press release from BCC Research.
Social robots are designed to connect with people on a human-level. They’re equipped with cameras, sensors, and artificial intelligence that mimics social and emotional intelligence.
So far, social robots have demonstrated beneficial effects for those in assisted living conditions. Their technology provides conversation, empathy, affection, and they even provide medication reminders in those circumstances.
“Certainly, collaborative robots interact with humans and engage with people, but typically not on an emotional level,” writes a BCC analyst. “Some of the more human-like robots are currently specifically used for research purposes. They could eventually fulfill roles in professional services as well as personal/domestic purposes.”
As far out and sci-fi as it may sound, social robots may become a normal part of life sooner than anticipated. These aren’t your grocery-store robots adorned with large googly eyes that stare into your soul as they block the isle.
No. Advanced, socially capable robots are breaking free from their life in the laboratory and finding their ways into schools, hospitals, and your very own humble adobe, says a 2020 Trends in Neuroscience article.
Research shows the brain process robot interaction within the person perception network, the article explains. We read robot emotions like human emotions.
However, our brain gets a bit confused when processing robotic behavior through the action observation network. Humans seem more engaged while watching robotic movement, but it’s attributed to their novelty. It’s unfamiliar to us, so it’s more attention-grabbing.
Researchers are also still unsure whether humans empathize with robots. We’re able to process these interactions on a social level, but our ability to care for robots may be inhibited by the fact that they’re an object in our eyes.
Comparing human-to-human empathy and human-to-robot empathy is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. Some researchers suggest comparing it to human-to-animal empathy instead.
Bug’s opinion (that nobody asked for):
I think these comparisons need to be more hybridized. I also think it’s important to look at how humans connect with “robots” like our phones and computers. We care about them. We’re anxious when we lose our phone, devastated if something happens to our computer.
Yes, these devices have monetary value and contain personal information – but don’t humans respond the same way when they lose track of a loved one or when something happens to their friends?
Over the last decade, neuroscience has allowed us to explore the potential for social robots in the real world but many questions still plague the industry:
- How far can human-robot interaction go?
- Can humans truly empathize with robots?
- Can humans form meaningful bonds with robots?
- How does long-term human-robot interaction affect human cognition?
Robots and Coronavirus
Robot “Spot” enforces social distancing in parks in SingaporeSource: This Robot Is the Latest Social Distancing Enforcer | Coronavirus News for May 11, 2020 | Inside Edition
Research on social robots is still limited and the technology itself is expensive. But desperate times call for desperate measures.
Regardless of whether social robots are enough to fulfill the basic human need for face-to-face interaction, it has shown promising results for those in assisted living conditions.
Rather than enforcing social distancing, like the robots in Singapore’s parks, these results show robots could actually ease the effects of social distancing.
Senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems are high-risk groups for coronavirus, warns the Centers For Disease Prevention and Control.
While some areas are slowly re-emerging from social isolation, these groups are advised to keep their distance.
But senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals still need interaction. Social media has kept the world connected, but it’s a very one-way form of communication (with the exception of instant messaging).
Even if your loved ones interact with your content, the response isn’t always instant. A social robot provides real-time, physical, social, and emotional responses.
Could they be the cure to quarantine loneliness? Perhaps. Maybe they’re just a bandaid on the situation – but isn’t a bandaid better than having an open wound?
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A cynical optimist and mad scientist undercover, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, webmaster, social media manager, and primary photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Entangled in a web of curiosity, burgundy bug’s work embodies a wide variety of topics including: neuroscience, psychology, ecology, biology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics. You can learn more about working with burgundy bug by visiting her portfolio website: burgundybug.comView more posts from this author