Monday, July 13, 2015


I wonder if you heard the news-item that caught my attention last week?

A scientist was being asked about the latest developments in robot technology.  They had, he told the interviewer, progressed from designing robotic pets, robots intended for children who were unable to have an animal, to an even more subtle form of artificial intelligence.

This latest achievement was a robot designed to provide care and companionship for the elderly living on their own.

Companion robots, it seemed, had been programmed to carry out tasks around the home and, even more surprisingly, to respond to any emotional needs with sympathetic blinks, nods and pats.

What, I found myself wondering, is an anxious, elderly human supposed to derive from such artificial comfort?
Is it better than nothing . . . ?
Perhaps . . . but I find the concept chilling rather than heart-warming.

Do you know what that news-item also made me think of?
It reminded me of the emoticons used so liberally on social media . . . robotic emotions designed to manipulate our feelings.

It also made me ponder on the whole question of social media.
May I share my thoughts with you?

When we go on Facebook, for instance,who is it that you and I are presenting?

Could it be that the person we're putting forward isn't necessarily the person we're inwardly feeling?
Are we, perhaps, offering a token emoticon?  A projection from the head rather than from the heart.
What we're declaring to unseen, unknown readers may be very different to what we're inwardly admitting to ourselves.
And how are the Facebook readers to know the difference?

When a group of us meet together physically, all five senses are brought into action.
It's very apparent if someone is feeling unhappy or lonely.
The tone of a person's voice will often convey a very different message to the words they're using.  Whilst another person's posture might indicate a dejection not apparent in their comments.

And what if someone is distressed and doesn't want to speak?
Isn't that a  moment for the touch of an outstretched hand . . .  not an emoticon?

Emoticons are powerful in conjuring up an emotional response, but, whilst one might symbolise laughter, what could possibly compensate for the infectious, heart-warming quality of the real thing?
Just look at this picture for a moment and, even without hearing the chuckles, I defy you not to smile in response!

Then there's something else.   Facebook, as you'll know, frequently offers participants the opportunity to register approval, or disapproval, by means of a thumbs up or a thumbs down.  Which, on the face of it, is fine.

But is life really so simple . . . so black-and-white?
Aren't there times when we might well 'like' the thing in question, but still harbour a few misgivings?  On the other hand, to register an unqualified 'dislike' would be to banish an offering that might have much to redeem it.

But, wait a moment . . .  have you noticed an irony in all this?
Here I am, carping about online communication whilst using the very same medium to express my own feelings!

I admit it . . . you're fully entitled to give me an
unqualified thumbs down!