New Scientist recently reported on the groundbreaking development of robot avatars in the treatment of people suffering from paralysis and locked-in-syndrome.
The technology operates by way of brain scan. Promising results from an experiment in Israel demonstrated that a man situated under a brain scan could coordinate motions with a robot in France. The man was instructed to concentrate on different types of motions while scientists developed software to pick up these subtle intentions, to which the robot then responds. The person controlling the robot via brain scan is also able to see through the avatar’s eyes and, in the near future, will be able to speak through the avatar’s mouth. This technology aims to give the patient the virtual sense of actually being in the robot’s “body.” The project is aptly named “Virtual Embodiment.”
Who’s afraid that robots are going to take over the world? Come on, be honest. My brother-in-law recently said he thought world peace would be achieved when robots were in control of global politics. I shuddered slightly at the thought. But this new development confuses the human-robot paradigm by fusing the two, à la Iron Man. And it’s not for political domination, but rather for medical and psychological treatment. Who could argue with that?
I’m not a purist. Scientific and medical developments excite me, and I believe in the positive power of technology, if used respectfully. But I’m also the product of media hype through films like A.I., The Terminator and Avatar, which paint troubling, if not downright disturbing, pictures of what the world could become if humans misuse robot technology and “virtual embodiment.” It’s time we invented a new paradigm and a new repertoire of hit films to celebrate humans’ ability to optimize technology for positive change in the world.
What do you think? How would you feel about remotely controlling an avatar halfway across the world? Leave your comments below!