How Five Countries Are Integrating Robots Into Daily Life
People in Asia already trust robots enough to let them take care of their loved ones and deliver the evening news. Meanwhile, a hitchhiking robot's world tour successfully passed through Germany, the Netherlands and Canada, but the American leg of the journey was cut short when it was decapitated and beaten to death in Philadelphia.
Yes, we humans are an unpredictable and diverse lot. And inevitably, different regions of the world are bound to perceive artificial intelligence in different ways. Here is how five countries are incorporating robotics into their cultures... On their own terms.
Robots in China are widely welcomed with open arms. They are programed to work as receptionists and clean windows around the house. The South China Morning Post reports that China's Xinhua state news agency has developed two news anchors using artificial intelligence. The "anchors," named Xin Xiaomeng and Qiu Hao, are based off of real people. They can mimic facial expressions, lifelike movements, and speak both English and Chinese.
Qiu Hao, one of Xinhua's AI news anchors — Photo: China Xinhua Sci-Tech
China has also applied artificial intelligence to its education system. China Daily says that Keeko, a robot-teacher, has made its way into kindergarten classrooms in more than 200 schools across the country. It encourages interactive learning by sharing stories and helping children solve logical problems. Its round head and big eyes give it a "cute" appearance, appealing to children under the age of seven.
In addition to using artificial intelligence to ease domestic burdens like laundry and elderly care, Japan also sees it benefiting more serious industries down the line. Japan Today reports that Japan's ambassador to the U.N. recently defended the use of "killer robots' under human supervision at a conference. While the country doesn't condone fully autonomous armed robots, he said that it can see a future where robots save labor costs and reduce collateral damage in a military setting. The Asahi Shimbun says that Japan believes human oversight is crucial in this situation.
The country also plans on bringing robots to the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, the Japan Times says. Organizers are developing robots to assist visitors and staff during the event. Some of the technology has been developed to specifically help spectators in wheelchairs by guiding them to their seats and by carrying their heavy belongings. Massaki Komiya, the committee's vice director, said they want robots that are "friendly to people….and enhance convenience at events, as well as provide the audience with a new experience."
Perhaps the world's most striking— and most controversial — robots are in Thailand. Built with bright red eyes and yellow uniforms, a small army of robots now work at Mongkutwattana General Hospital in Bangkok. They are busy each day ferrying documents from office to office along magnetic strips— a menial task nurses once did. The hospital insists that this advancement is not undermining human employment. Hospital director Reintong Nanna assured Newsflare last year that "these robotic nurses help to improve the efficiency and performance of working in the hospital ... They are not being used to reduce the number of employees."
While European robots tend to look more like machines than real people, they are still taking over human jobs. French chefs may find themselves unemployed sometime soon as artificial intelligence starts to infiltrate the culinary industry. Le Parisien says that a robot named Pazzi in Montévrain, France, can prepare, cut, and serve a pizza in less than five minutes and create 500,000 unique recipes. The start-up behind this three-armed metal chef, Ekim, is aiming to launch a restaurant in Paris and Val d'Europe by the end of the year.
Pazzi, Ekim's robot pizza chef — Photo: pazzi_tastemakers via Instagram
Human valets may fade into oblivion as well. At the Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport, robots are parking cars in two minutes. According to a France Info video clip, this is how it works: you leave your car in a designated garage and the robot picks it up and stores it in the parking lot, optimizing space by essentially playing a game of Tetris with your car. The technology has allowed the airport to have 50% more space in the lot and only costs travelers an extra 2 euros. The system is already making plans to expand to Charles de Gaulle and London Gatwick airports.
Americans may be the least open to incorporating robotics into daily life — a 2018 Brookings Institution study revealed that 61% of adult internet users in the U.S. are uncomfortable with robots. Another poll showed that 84% explicitly stated that they are not interested in a robot that helps care for loved ones.
Nevertheless, artificial intelligence has moved into the U.S. healthcare industry. Some doctors are maximizing their time by conferencing into hospitals to talk to patients through a video chat. Their faces appear on a screen that sits atop a 5-foot-6-inch robot. One version of this, Dr. Bear Bot, makes rounds at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C. The robot made its debut on Valentine's Day and handed out greeting cards to young patients around the hospital.
Dr. Bear Bot — Photo: Children's National Hospital
Though Dr. Bear Bot successfully garnered popularity among children in D.C., one robotic doctor in Fremont, California is having a harder time. Ernest Quintana, 79, was being treated in Kaiser Permanente Medical Center's intensive care unit when a doctor, via video chat, told him that he would not survive because his lungs were failing. His granddaughter, Annalisia Wilharm, was with him at the time and was shocked by the delivery of the news.
"No granddaughter, no family member should have to go through what I just did with him...I was so scared for him and disappointed with the delivery," Wilharm told CNN.
Since the incident, the hospital has disputed the use of the word "robot" to describe the technology. If Americans are reluctant to even use the term "robot," artificial intelligence may not make it very far.