Category Archives: public perceptions

Elder care robot being tested by Washington State University team

I imagine that at some point the Washington State University’s (WSU) ‘elder care’ robot will be tested by senior citizens as opposed to the students described in a January 14, 2019 WSU news release (also on EurekAlert) by Will Ferguson,

A robot created by Washington State University scientists could help elderly people with dementia and other limitations live independently in their own homes.

The Robot Activity Support System, or RAS, uses sensors embedded in a WSU smart home to determine where its residents are, what they are doing and when they need assistance with daily activities.

It navigates through rooms and around obstacles to find people on its own, provides video instructions on how to do simple tasks and can even lead its owner to objects like their medication or a snack in the kitchen.

“RAS combines the convenience of a mobile robot with the activity detection technology of a WSU smart home to provide assistance in the moment, as the need for help is detected,” said Bryan Minor, a postdoctoral researcher in the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Minor works in the lab of Diane Cook, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of the WSU Center for Advanced Studies in Adaptive Systems.

For the last decade, Cook and Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, a WSU professor of psychology, have led CASAS researchers in the development of smart home technologies that could enable elderly adults with memory problems and other impairments to live independently.

Currently, an estimated 50 percent of adults over the age of 85 need assistance with every day activities such as preparing meals and taking medication and the annual cost for this assistance in the US is nearly $2 trillion.

With the number of adults over 85 expected to triple by 2050, Cook and Schmitter-Edgecombe hope that technologies like RAS and the WSU smart home will alleviate some of the financial strain on the healthcare system by making it easier for older adults to live alone.

“Upwards of 90 percent of older adults prefer to age in place as opposed to moving into a nursing home,” Cook said. “We want to make it so that instead of bringing in a caregiver or sending these people to a nursing home, we can use technology to help them live independently on their own.”

RAS is the first robot CASAS researchers have tried to incorporate into their smart home environment. They recently published a study in the journal Cognitive Systems Research that demonstrates how RAS could make life easier for older adults struggling to live independently

In the study CASAS researchers recruited 26 undergraduate and graduate students [emphasis mine] to complete three activities in a smart home with RAS as an assistant.

The activities were getting ready to walk the dog, taking medication with food and water and watering household plants.

When the smart home sensors detected a human failed to initiate or was struggling with one of the tasks, RAS received a message to help.

The robot then used its mapping and navigation camera, sensors and software to find the person and offer assistance.

The person could then indicate through a tablet interface that they wanted to see a video of the next step in the activity they were performing, a video of the entire activity or they could ask the robot to lead them to objects needed to complete the activity like the dog’s leash or a granola bar from the kitchen.

Afterwards the study participants were asked to rate the robot’s performance. Most of the participants rated RAS’ performance favorably and found the robot’s tablet interface to be easy to use. They also reported the next step video as being the most useful of the prompts.

“While we are still in an early stage of development, our initial results with RAS have been promising,” Minor said. “The next step in the research will be to test RAS’ performance with a group of older adults to get a better idea of what prompts, video reminders and other preferences they have regarding the robot.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Robot-enabled support of daily activities in smart home environment by Garrett Wilson, Christopher Pereyda, Nisha Raghunath, Gabriel de la Cruz, Shivam Goel, Sepehr Nesaei, Bryan Minor, Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, Matthew E.Taylor, Diane J.Cook. Cognitive Systems Research Volume 54, May 2019, Pages 258-272 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogsys.2018.10.032

This paper is behind a paywall.

Other ‘caring’ robots

Dutch filmmaker, Sander Burger, directed a documentary about ‘caredroids’ for seniors titled ‘Alice Cares’ or ‘Ik ben Alice’ in Dutch. It premiered at the 2015 Vancouver (Canada) International Film Festival and was featured in a January 22, 2015 article by Neil Young for the Hollywood Reporter,


The benign side of artificial intelligence enjoys a rare cinematic showcase in Sander Burger‘s Alice Cares (Ik ben Alice), a small-scale Dutch documentary that reinvents no wheels but proves as unassumingly delightful as its eponymous, diminutive “care-robot.” Touching lightly on social and technological themes that are increasingly relevant to nearly all industrialized societies, this quiet charmer bowed at Rotterdam ahead of its local release and deserves wider exposure via festivals and small-screen outlets.

… Developed by the US firm Hanson Robotics, “Alice”— has the stature and face of a girl of eight, but an adult female’s voice—is primarily intended to provide company for lonely seniors.

Burger shows Alice “visiting” the apartments of three octogenarian Dutch ladies, the contraption overcoming their hosts’ initial wariness and quickly forming chatty bonds. This prototype “care-droid” represents the technology at a relatively early stage, with Alice unable to move anything apart from her head, eyes (which incorporate tiny cameras) and mouth. Her body is made much more obviously robotic in appearance than the face, to minimize the chances of her interlocutors mistaking her for an actual human. Such design-touches are discussed by Alice’s programmer in meetings with social-workers, which Burger and his editor Manuel Rombley intersperses between the domestic exchanges that provide the bulk of the running-time.

‘Alice’ was also featured in the Lancet’s (a general medical journal) July 18, 2015 article by Natalie Harrison,

“I’m going to ask you some questions about your life. Do you live independently? Are you lonely?” If you close your eyes and start listening to the film Alice Cares, you would think you were overhearing a routine conversation between an older woman and a health-care worker. It’s only when the woman, Martha Remkes, ends the conversation with “I don’t feel like having a robot in my home, I prefer a human being” that you realise something is amiss. In the Dutch documentary Alice Cares, Alice Robokind, a prototype caredroid developed in a laboratory in Amsterdam, is sent to live with three women who require care and company, with rather surprising results

Although the idea of health robots has been around for a couple of decades, research into the use of robots with older adults is a fairly new area. Alex Mihailidis, from the Intelligent Assistive Technology and Systems Lab [University of Toronto] in Toronto, ON, Canada, explains: “For carers, robots have been used as tools that can help to alleviate burden typically associated with providing continuous care”. He adds that “as robots become more viable and are able to perform common physical tasks, they can be very valuable in helping caregivers complete common tasks such as moving a person in and out of bed”. Although Japan and Korea are regarded as the world leaders in this research, the European Union and the USA are also making progress. At the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, for example, researchers are working to develop more complex sensor and navigation technology for robots that work alongside people and on assisted living prosthetics technologies. This research is part of a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University that was awarded £6 million in funding as part of a wider £85 million investment into industrial technology in the UK Government’s Eight Great Technologies initiative. Robotics research is clearly flourishing and the global market for service and industrial robots is estimated to reach almost US$60 billion by 2020.

The idea for Alice Cares came to director Sander Burger after he read about a group of scientists at the VU University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands who were about to test a health-care robot on older people. “The first thing I felt was some resentment against the idea—I was curious why I was so offended by the whole idea and just called the scientists to see if I could come by to see what they were doing. …

… With software to generate and regulate Alice’s emotions, an artificial moral reasoner, a computational model of creativity, and full access to the internet, the investigators hoped to create a robotic care provider that was intelligent, sensitive, creative, and entertaining. “The robot was specially developed for social skills, in short, she was programmed to make the elderly women feel less lonely”, explains Burger.

Copyright © 2015 Alice Cares KeyDocs

Both the Young and Harrison articles are well worth the time, should you have enough to read them. Also, there’s an Ik ben Alice website (it’s in Dutch only).

Meanwhile, Canadians can look at Humber River Hospital (HHR; Toronto, Ontario) for a glimpse at another humanoid ‘carebot’, from a July 25, 2018 HHR Foundation blog entry,

Earlier this year, a special new caregiver joined the Child Life team at the Humber River Hospital. Pepper, the humanoid robot, helps our Child Life Specialists decrease patient anxiety, increase their comfort and educate young patients and their families. Pepper embodies perfectly the intersection of compassion and advanced technology for which Humber River is renowned.

Pepper helps our Child Life Specialists decrease patient anxiety, increase their comfort and educate young patients.

Humber River Hospital is committed to making the hospital experience a better one for our patients and their families from the moment they arrive and Pepper the robot helps us do that! Pepper is child-sized with large, expressive eyes and a sweet voice. It greets visitors, provides directions, plays games, does yoga and even dances. Using facial recognition to detect human emotions, it adapts its behaviour according to the mood of the person with whom it’s interacting. Pepper makes the Hospital an even more welcoming place for everyone it encounters.

Humber currently has two Peppers on staff: one is used exclusively by the Child Life Program to help young patients feel at ease and a second to greet patients and their families in the Hospital’s main entrance.

While Pepper robots are used around the world in such industries as retail and hospitality, Humber River is the first hospital in Canada to use Pepper in a healthcare setting. Using dedicated applications built specifically for the Hospital, Pepper’s interactive touch-screen display helps visitors find specific departments, washrooms, exits and more. In addition to answering questions and sharing information, Pepper entertains, plays games and is always available for a selfie.

I’m guessing that they had a ‘soft’ launch for Pepper because there’s an Oct. 25, 2018 HHR news release announcing Pepper’s deployment,

Pepper® can greet visitors, provide directions, play games, do yoga and even dance

Humber River Hospital has joined forces with SoftBank Robotics America (SBRA) to launch a new pilot program with Pepper the humanoid robot.  Beginning this week, Pepper will greet, help guide, engage and entertain patients and visitors who enter the hospital’s main entrance hall.

“While the healthcare sector has talked about this technology for some time now, we are ambitious and confident at Humber River Hospital to make the move and become the first hospital in Canada to pilot this technology,” states Barbara Collins, President and CEO, Humber River Hospital. 


Pepper by the numbers:
Stands 1.2 m (4ft) tall and weighs 29 kg (62lb)
Features three cameras – two 2 HD cameras and one 3D depth sensor – to “see” and interact with people
20 engines in Pepper’s head, arms and back control its precise movements
A 10-inch chest-mounted touchscreen tablet that Pepper uses to convey information and encourage input

Finally, there’s a 2012 movie, Robot & Frank (mentioned here before in this Oct. 13, 2017 posting; scroll down to Robots and pop culture subsection) which provides an intriguing example of how ‘carebots’ might present unexpected ethical challenges. Hint: Frank is a senior citizen and former jewel thief who decides to pass on some skills.

Final thoughts

It’s fascinating to me that every time I’ve looked at articles about robots being used for tasks usually performed by humans that some expert or other sweetly notes that robots will be used to help humans with tasks that are ‘boring’ or ‘physical’ with the implication that humans will focus on more rewarding work, from Harrison’s Lancet article (in a previous excerpt),

… Alex Mihailidis, from the Intelligent Assistive Technology and Systems Lab in Toronto, ON, Canada, explains: “For carers, robots have been used as tools that can help to alleviate burden typically associated with providing continuous care”. He adds that “as robots become more viable and are able to perform common physical tasks, they can be very valuable in helping caregivers …

For all the emphasis on robots as taking over burdensome physical tasks, Burger’s documentary makes it clear that these early versions are being used primarily to provide companionship. Yes, HHR’s Pepper® is taking over some repetitive tasks, such as giving directions, but it’s also playing and providing companionship.

As for what it will mean ultimately, that’s something we, as a society, need to consider.

S.NET (Society for the Study of New and Emerging Technologies) 2019 conference in Quito, Ecuador: call for abstracts

Why isn’t the S.NET abbreviation SSNET? That’s what it should be, given the organization’s full name: Society for the Study of New and Emerging Technologies. S.NET smacks of a compromise or consensus decision of some kind. Also, the ‘New’ in its name was ‘Nanoscience’ at one time (see my Oct. 22, 2013 posting).

Now onto 2019 and the conference, which, for the first time ever, is being held in Latin America. Here’s more from a February 4, 2019 S.Net email about the call for abstracts,

2019 Annual S.NET Meeting
Contrasting Visions of Technological Change

The 11th Annual S.NET meeting will take place November 18-20, 2019, at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Quito, Ecuador.

This year’s meeting will provide rich opportunities to reflect on technological change by establishing a dialogue between contrasting visions on how technology becomes closely intertwined with social orders.  We aim to open the black box of technological change by exploring the sociotechnical agreements that help to explain why societies follow certain technological trajectories. Contributors are invited to explore the ramifications of technological change, reflect on the policy process of technology, and debate whether or why technological innovation is a matter for democracy.

Following the transnational nature of S.NET, the meeting will highlight the diverse geographical and cultural approaches to technological innovation, the forces driving sociotechnical change, and social innovation.  It is of paramount importance to question the role of technology in the shaping of society and the outcomes of these configurations.  What happens when these arrangements come into being, are transformed or fall apart?  Does technology create contestation?  Why and how should we engage with contested visions of technology change?

This is the first time that the S.NET Meeting will take place in Latin America and we encourage panels and presentations with contrasting voices from both the Global North and the Global South. 

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

Sociotechnical imaginaries of innovation
The role of technology on shaping nationhood and nation identities
Decision-making processes on science and technology public policies
Co-creation approaches to promote public innovation
Grassroots innovation, sustainability and democracy
Visions and cultural imaginaries
Role of social sciences and humanities in processes technological change
In addition, we welcome contributions on:
Research dynamics and organization Innovation and use
Governance and regulation
Politics and ethics
Roles of publics and stakeholders

Keynote Speakers
TBA (check the conference website for updates!)

Deadlines & Submission Instructions
The program committee invites contributions from scholars, technology developers and practitioners, and welcome presentations from a range of disciplines spanning the humanities, social and natural sciences.  We invite individual paper submissions, open panel and closed session proposals, student posters, and special format sessions, including events that are innovative in form and content. 

The deadline for abstract submissions is *April 18, 2019* [extended to May 12, 2019].  Abstracts should be approximately 250 words in length, emailed in PDF format to 2019snet@gmail.com.  Notifications of acceptance can be expected by May 30, 2019.

Junior scholars and those with limited resources are strongly encouraged to apply, as the organizing committee is actively investigating potential sources of financial support.

Details on the conference can be found here: https://www.flacso.edu.ec/snet2019/

Local Organizing Committee
María Belén Albornoz, Isarelis Pérez, Javier Jiménez, Mónica Bustamante, Jorge Núñez, Maka Suárez.

Venue
FLACSO Ecuador is located in the heart of Quito.  Most hotels, museums, shopping centers and other cultural hotspots in the city are located near the campus and are easily accessible by public or private transportation.  Due to its proximity and easy access, Meeting participants would be able to enjoy Quito’s rich cultural life during their stay.  

About S.NET
S.NET is an international association that promotes intellectual exchange and critical inquiry about the advancement of new and emerging technologies in society.  The aim of the association is to advance critical reflection from various perspectives on developments in a broad range of new and emerging fields, including, but not limited to, nanoscale science and engineering, biotechnology, synthetic biology, cognitive science, ICT and Big Data, and geo-engineering.  Current S.NET board members are: Michael Bennett (President), Maria Belen Albornoz, Claire Shelley-Egan, Ana Delgado, Ana Viseu, Nora Vaage, Chris Toumey, Poonam Pandey, Sylvester Johnson, Lotte Krabbenborg, and Maria Joao Ferreira Maia.

Don’t forget, the deadline for your abstract is *April 18, 2019* [extended to May 12, 2019].

For anyone curious about what Quito might look like, there’s this from Quito’s Wikipedia entry,

Clockwise from top: Calle La Ronda, Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, El Panecillo as seen from Northern Quito, Carondelet Palace, Central-Northern Quito, Parque La Carolina and Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco. Credit: various authors – montage of various important landmarks of the City of Quito, Ecuador taken from files found in Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0 File:Montaje Quito.png Created: 24 December 2012

Good luck to all everyone submitting an abstract.

*Date for abstract submissions changed from April 18, 2019 to May 12, 2019 on April 24, 2019

Science denial is not limited to the political right

These days, climate is the most likely topic to bring up charges of having anti-science views and/or ‘right wing’ thinking but according to a Sept. 19, 2017 news item on phys.org ‘left wing’ thinkers can also reject science,

In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, many claims have been made that science denial, particularly as it relates to climate change, is primarily a problem of the political right.

But what happens when scientific conclusions challenge liberals’ attitudes on public policy issues, such as gun control, nuclear power or immigration?

A new study from social psychologists at the University of Illinois at Chicago [UIC] and published online in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests people of all political backgrounds can be motivated to participate in science denial.

A Sept. 19, 2017 University of Illinois at Chicago news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further,

UIC researchers Anthony Washburn, a graduate student in psychology, and Linda Skitka, professor of psychology, had participants indicate their political orientation, evaluate fabricated scientific results, and, based on the data, decide what the studies concluded.

Once they were informed of the correct interpretations of the data, participants were then asked to rate how much they agreed with, found knowledgeable, and trusted the researchers’ correct interpretation.

“Not only were both sides equally likely to seek out attitude confirming scientific conclusions, both were also willing to work harder and longer when doing so got them to a conclusion that fit with their existing attitudes,” says Washburn, the lead author of the study. “And when the correct interpretation of the results did not confirm participants’ attitudes, they were more likely to view the researchers involved with the study as less trustworthy, less knowledgeable, and disagreed with their conclusions more.”

These effects were constant no matter what issue was under consideration, which included six social issues — immigration, gun control, climate change, health care reform, nuclear power and same sex marriage — and one control issue — skin rash treatment.

Rather than strictly a conservative phenomenon, science denial may be a result of a more basic desire of people wanting to see the world in ways that fit with their personal preferences, political or otherwise, according to the researchers.

The results also shed light on science denial in public discourse, Skitka added.

“Before assuming that one group of people or another are anti-science because they disagree with one scientific conclusion, we should make an effort to consider different motivations that are likely at play, which might have nothing to do with science per se,” she said.

This research fits into a larger body of work where researchers are examining what we believe and how we use or dismiss science and fact to support our positions. Chris Mooney’s article “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science” for the May/June 2011 issue of Mother Jones examines the issue although it is strongly weighted with examples of research into intransigent opinion associated with right wing politics (climate change, etc.).

Getting back to more recent work, here’s link to and a citation for the paper,

Science Denial Across the Political Divide; Liberals and Conservatives Are Similarly Motivated to Deny Attitude-Inconsistent Science by Anthony N. Washburn, Linda J. Skitka. Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550617731500 First Published September 14, 2017

This paper is behind a paywall.

Nanoview report published by Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment

According to a Dec. 13, 2016 posting by Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton for the National Law Review blog the German government has released a report on nanotechnology, perceptions of risk, and communication strategies,

On November 15, 2016, Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) published a report, in English, entitled Nanoview — Influencing factors on the perception of nanotechnology and target group-specific risk communication strategies. In 2007, BfR conducted a survey concerning the public perception of nanotechnology. Given the newness of nanotechnology and that large sections of the population did not have any definite opinions or knowledge of it, BfR conducted a follow-up survey, Nanoview, in 2012. Nanoview also included the additional question of which communication measures for conveying risk information regarding nanotechnology are best suited to reach the majority of the population. …  The report states that, given the findings from the 2007 representative survey, which confirmed gender-specific differences in the perception of nanotechnology, ideal-typical male and ideal-typical female concepts were developed. Focus groups then reviewed and optimized the conceptual considerations.  According to the report, the ideal-typical male concept met the expectations of the male target groups (nano-types “supporters” and “cautious observers”).

…  According to the report, the conceptual approach of the ideal-typical female concept met the expectations of the female target groups (nano-types “sceptics” and “cautious observers”), as well as catering to the information needs of some men (“cautious observers”).  …

The report concludes that, with regard to the central communication measure, creating an information portal on the Internet appears to be the most meaningful strategy. .. The report states: “The ideal-typical male concept is geared towards the provision of information on scientific, technical and application-related aspects of nanotechnology, for example.  The ideal-typical female concept focuses on the provision of information on application-related aspects of nanotechnology and support for everyday (purchase) decisions.”

I have quickly gone through the report and it’s interesting to note that the age range surveyed in 2012 was 16 to 60. Presumably Germany is in a similar position to other European countries, Canada, the US, and others in that the main portion of the population is ageing and that population is living longer; consequently, it seems odd to have excluded people over the age of 60.

I found more details about the gender differences expressed regarding nanotechnology, from Nanoview — Influencing factors on the perception of nanotechnology and target group-specific risk communication strategies,

For the following findings, there were numerous significant differences for the variables gender and age:
 Women are on the whole more sceptical towards nanotechnology than men; i.e.
– men tend to be more in favour of nano applications than women
– men  take  a  more  positive  view  than  women  of the  risk-benefit  ratio  in  general  and  in connection with specific applications
– men have a far better feeling about nanotechnology than women
– when  it  comes  to  information  about  nanotechnology, men  have  more faith  in  the government than women; women have more faith than men in environmental organisations as well as health and work safety authorities
– in  some  areas,  men  have  a  far  more  positive  attitude  towards  nanotechnology than women
 Younger  people  are  on  the  whole  more  open-minded  about  nanotechnology than older people; i.e.
-younger people tend to be more in favour of nano applications than older people. The cohort of 16 to 30-year-olds is in some cases far more open-minded than the population overall
– younger people take a (slightly) more positive view than older people of the risk-benefit ratio in general and in connection with specific applications
– in some areas, younger people have a far more positive attitude towards nanotechnology than older people

In  contrast,  there  are few  to  hardly  any  significant  differences for  the  variables  “education”, “size of household”, “income” and “migration background”. [p. 77]

I also found this to be of interest,

In recent years, there has been little or no change in awareness levels among the general population with regard to nanotechnology. This is shown by a comparison of the representative Germany-wide surveys on the risk perception of nanotechnology among the population conducted in 2007 and 2012 (cf. Chapter 0). In response to the open question regarding nanotechnology, around 40% of respondents in the 2012 survey say they had not previously heard of nanotechnology or nanomaterials (cf. Chapter 4.2.2). At the same time, however, those  respondents  who did know about the topic were able to make fairly differentiated statements on individual issues and applications. The risk-benefit ratio of nanotechnology is seen slightly more critically than five years previously, and the general attitude towards nanotechnology has become less favourable. The subjective feeling of being informed about the issue is also still less pronounced than is the case with other innovative technologies. From the point of view  of  consumers,  therefore, this means that an information deficit still exists when it comes to nanotechnology. (p. 83)

It seems to be true everywhere. Awareness of nanotechnology does not seem to change much.

This is a 162 pp. report, which recommends risk communication strategies for nanotechnology,

The findings of the representative survey underline the need to inform the public at the earliest possible date about scientific knowledge as well as the potential and possible risks of nanotechnology. For this reason, the challenge was to develop two alternative target group-specific risk communication concepts. The drafting of these concepts was a two-phase process and took account not only of the prior work done in the research project but also of the insights gained from two group discussions with consumers (focus groups). Against the backdrop of the findings from the representative survey, which  confirmed the gender-specific differences in the perception of nanotechnology, it was decided in consultation with the client to develop an ideal-typical male and an ideal-typical female concept. … (p. 100)

This returns us to the beginning with the Bergeson/Hutton post. For more details you do need to read the report. By the way, the literature survey is quite broad and interesting bringing together more than 20 surveys to provide an international (largely Eurocentric) perspective.