Can robot nannies really replace the real thing?

Many of us dream of having a robot assistant that can supersonically complete the more mundane chores of daily life. Although technology is developing every year, this dream remains elusive – no dusting maids, no waiting butlers occupy the average household. However, an altogether more complex task usually reserved for caregivers and domestic staff may be delegated to our robotic companions in the near future.

According to recent reports, there is a new robot on the scene – the “robot nanny”, and it may soon be making its way into urban households. According to Mobile Mag, these affordable robots will be able to “bottle-feed babies, change diapers, and even iron the kids’ clothes.” Created by Avatar Mind, the new robot nanny is called iPal and is equipped with the mind (learning engine) of an adult but with the general conversational capacities of a four- to eight-year-old, allowing it to better relate to the child.

“The robot’s mind is also set to remember a child’s likes and dislikes and uses this knowledge to improve conversation”, says Mobile Mag. “Its super brain is also keen on always researching on the internet to learn more about topics that are interesting to the child.” Avatar Mind claim that not only is the robot created to take care of a child while handling minor tasks like ironing and folding  clothes, but is also able to replace the hours of digital entertainment many children are exposed to in the modern day.

But can robots really replace nannies?

In her article for The Week, Ruth Margolis emphasises that, although the idea of her children playing with an interactive robot rather than staring at a screen is appealing, it is important to remember that: “iPal is designed exclusively for the three-plus set and it’s a glorified toy rather than a robot sitter. You shouldn’t actually leave a child — of any age — in its care.” Agreeing with this sentiment, QZ says, “The robot essentially serves as a glorified baby monitor and that’s perhaps its most useful feature: it not only keeps children engaged, but gives parents the power to check on children remotely and even video chat with them through the tablet embedded in the iPal’s chest, which runs Android applications. In the future, the robot could provide a convenient lens for caregivers to look over children with special needs or the aging elderly population at times when they cannot be physically present.”

Despite its potentials, even Avatar Mind themselves insist that “it cannot replace a babysitter.” Madeline Duva, an adviser to the company, says that iPal ought to only be used to occupy a child for a brief period. Similarly, as QZ report, researchers from University of Lisbon have found that children need actual human role models to help them develop cultural values, master a sense of morality. No matter how sophisticated robots become, they cannot replicate the social values that a real human nanny will pass on to children in their care.

Mobile Mag points out that other experts are concerned that long-term exposure to robots instead of humans may cause some psychological effects on the child. They also ask:

“While that may seem like a good thing given that robot nannies don’t need to call in sick or ask for vacation leave, there are other important aspects to consider. How will iPal react if a fire breaks out? Can it squish poisonous spiders nearing the child? What will it do if the child is choking?”

These questions remain unanswered, so Mobile Mag suggests that, rather than investing in the risks of a robot, “it’s time to give your present human nanny a pay raise and better sick leave benefits.” If you are in need of household staff or nannies, remember that only human beings can truly understand your family’s unique needs and provide the human contact that children need to grow into fulfilled adults. A nanny agency will be able to find the perfect employee to not only fulfil all of the daily chores as efficiently as any computerised being, but also provide the empathy and bond that a growing family needs. We may be in the computer age, but there are some things that code cannot replace.