The year is 2018 and it’s starting to feel like the future we were always promised in science fiction as we grew up is suddenly well and truly on the way. Artificial Intelligence is the new technological grail, more and more tasks are handled by robots, and technology permeates almost all aspects of life in some way. Now a company in China is looking to apply these tech advances to lift some of the burden in parenting and childcare.
That’s right, parenting. China has long stood at the very forefront of the AI race, and now tech company Roobot is looking to capitalise on their advances, applying learning technology and robotics to children's toys, to educate, maintain well-being, and instantly connect children with their parents if they’re away.
One such device is a small green bean-shaped robot called BeanQ, who can not only keep children busy, educated and entertained, but also constantly engages with them, checking how they feel physically and emotionally, as well as if they’ve eaten enough food and enabling easy video calls to parents when they have to work late. Sounds pretty good so far.
But little BeanQ also boasts a ‘remote babysitting’ mode, which takes a stream of photos showing how the child is doing and uploading for viewing remotely. Possible security concerns aside, this sounds great for busy hard-working parents who don’t want to go 8-10 hours without seeing their kids. Used as a supplement to childcare, devices like BeanQ seem like a great idea, but they do start to blur the line of responsibility and raise some seriously big questions (along with some eyebrows).
In today’s society, there aren't many parents who would dream of leaving a young child supervised purely by a small robot however advanced or friendly they may be. But in all likelihood, in line with the current technological trend, there will come a time in our lifetime when robotic nannies and 'babysitterbots' are the norm.
At what point, legally and ethically, can custody of care be legitimately handed over to an object?