Does the Future of Communication Lie with Social Robots?

By Felicity Jackson

In my Intro to Communication class, we have been discussing how various mediums, techniques, and methods to communicate have changed over time as new technological advancements are developed. For instance, the rise of social media, video games, smartphones, and other devices have drastically changed how humans communicate with each other. Much of our social interaction has moved from the physical world to the virtual world, and it is apparent that the world of technology has had a huge influence on our lives, culture, and society as a whole. With new advancements constantly coming out, technology instills these changes at an ever-growing rate.

However, the near future holds something that could significantly impact the way we interact and relate with our technology and with each other. At the crossroads of Communications and Robotics, one will find an interesting, and perhaps somewhat controversial, development taking place: the rise of social robots.

Not too long after a discussion in my Intro to Communication class, I saw a video one of my friends posted on Facebook that featured a social robot called Jibo. At first I thought it was some sort of creative science fiction video, but when I saw articles about this social robot in the news, I realised it was real.

In the video, Jibo acted and communicated like a human, interacting with the people around it almost as if it were actually alive. It was able to see with its two motion tracking cameras, hear and interpret human speech with its built-in microphones and language processing, speak in a simulated, human-like tone, and even look as if it is showing emotion with nonverbal cues. The robot, however, looks far from human, its design more resembling an animated, swiveling bobble-head with a screen for a face.

In some ways, I thought Jibo was really neat little gadget, but it was also strange to think that this robot was designed to act as if it were “part of the family.” Social robots like Jibo are programmed with artificial intelligence, so the more you interact with it, the better it learns how to respond to social situations. On the one hand, I could see the educational possibilities of it being used in a communications class like Intro to Communication sometime in the future, but on the other, it seems weird to relate to a robot on an emotional level.

If more social robots are developed over the years and become as common as having a smart phone, how will this affect how humans interact with each other? Already technology is becoming more a part of our culture every day, but are social robots going too far? Perhaps social robots will help us learn to communicate with each other more, just as they are learning from us, or maybe they will cause a greater social divide between us – that, or simply take over the world.

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