Imagine for a moment you are lying in a sterile hospital bed, in the last few quiet moments of your life, taking your final breaths.
A smooth white robot starts gently rubbing your arm with a swing-saw motion and then, with a metallic voice, says: ‘I am the Last Moment Robot. I am here to help you and guide you through your last moment on Earth.
‘I am sorry that your family and friends can’t be with you right now, but don’t be afraid. I am here to comfort you. You are not alone, you are with me. Your family and friends love you very much, they will remember you after you are gone. ‘
Last moments: The robot gently swings its arm back and forth to simulate a relaxing stroke
Is this a better way to go than dying alone? Or is it creepy? Is this kind of affection wanted when it is received by placebo, or worse, simply the pre-recorded responses from an unthinking, programmed machine?
So far, this is not a real hospital bed, or a real patient.
Instead the questions posed are from artist and designer Dan Chen, who designed this set-up to question our responses to machine intimacy.
Crave, an artist, designer, and engineer who just graduated from the School of Design in Rhode Island, said the design ‘reveals the cruelty of life, lack of human support/social connections.
‘On the other hand, the robot becomes something that you can trust/depend on. It could give you the “placebo effect” of comfort.’
Chen, who graduated in ‘Digital + Media’, wrote his master’s thesis entitled ‘File > Save As & Intimacy” (PDF )’, to explore what he terms ‘robotic intimacy technology’.
He has built various other loving machines, such as a ‘hugging robot’ and a ‘purring machine’.
The Last Moment Robot is a padded, caressing arm, with a recorded voice ready to offer support and comfort in the last moments of someone’s life.
It was displayed at an interactive art installation called Last Moment Hospital and at Brown University Science Center, also in Rhode Island.
CNET described the process as: ‘Once the patient lies down and the device is activated, LEDs display the words “Detecting end of life.”
‘Within moments, the LEDs read “End of life detected,” and the robotic arm begins its back-and-forth caressing action in what is supposed to be a comforting gesture, that Chen says tends to cause visitors a “paradoxical sensation of comfort and discomfort.”‘
Chen added: ‘The device is meant to raise questions.
‘The process of dying is probably the most vulnerable moment of a human life, where one seeks the assurance of human connection. In this installation, human presence is replaced with a robot, questioning the quality of intimacy without humanity.’
This is just an art project for the moment, but as the decades pass and technology improves, who knows in which direction the path to robots will lead us.