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Advances in robotics and implications for social




Professor Nadia Thalmann from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, created a social robot named Nadine that looks exactly like her. This robot is humanoid because it has a human appearance, and is programmed to have moods, emotions, and remember people and conversations.  Its programming is similar to ‘Siri’, the Apple computer programme that acts like an ‘intelligent’ personal assistant.

This report can be found  in a December 30, 2015 online article in The Christian Science Monitor titled ‘Why do humanoid robots give so many people the jitters?’ by Lisa Suhay.

The article mentions some of the ethical concerns this humanoid robot is raising, especially as it relates to children and the elderly, who may be fooled into believing that they are dealing with a real person instead of an unfeeling machine. Of course, advances in robotics is certainly relevant to human progress; but can a machine meet social, emotional, and more importantly, spiritual needs?

Starting from the premise of man’s spirituality which includes attributes of intelligence, wisdom, compassion, empathy and so on, it is patently obvious that these qualities cannot be expressed by a machine. A robot can be programmed to appear compassionate for example, but essentially it is a sham, since a machine has no experience with which to truly empathise with a human situation. And what about the child? Reports indicate that a humanoid robot can be programmed with child rearing capabilities, but this certainly does not, and indeed cannot include the ability to love, which is not only a spiritual quality but is the essence of good child rearing.

Most would agree that at the end of the day, being happy is what matters most in life. It is pertinent therefore that psychiatrist, Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, USA described some of the secrets to happiness. This was based on a study that followed two cohorts of white men for 75 years, starting in 1938. In a recent TED talk, Waldinger listed close relationships, quality (not quantity) of relationships and stable, supportive marriages as being critical factors to our health – our social health and even our physical health.  Indeed, acclaimed author, Mary Baker Eddy, writes in Science and Health with key to the Scriptures that happiness is spiritual, born of truth and love. Can a robot, however, human-like or humanoid, truly bring happiness – a spiritual quality which is the bedrock of social health?

For the invalid seeking a partner to pray with it in a health situation, the baby longing for the love of a mother, the counselor trying to make an emotional connection with an addict, the pastor offering consolation to one in distress or the overjoyed individual who has been given a clean bill of health after a frightening diagnosis, nothing can suffice but spirituality. God is the only source of spirituality, and health-conferring spirituality can be expressed, not by an expertly programmed robot made in the likeness of a human, but only by man and woman, made in the image and likeness of God – loving, intelligent and spiritual.

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