Whether you came to this blog post out of curiosity or out of interest, let me tell you that we are going to talk about the needed evolution of social robots.
To contextualize, social robots are physical robots designed to be able to interact and communicate with them in an advanced more or less natural, easy and pleasant way, following social behaviors, patterns and norms. For this you need to have skills that are located within the domain of the so-called social intelligence.
It is also important that the robot has a compelling personality that encourages people to interact with it primarily through high-level dialogue. They include some other useful functions such as recognizing the user, their mood, gestures, and they are even capable of displaying expressions. Among its use cases are training, assistance to the elderly or people with disabilities, entertainment and therapies.
In another entry on this blog we described the 5 most used social robots in assisting children with autism. Social robots have been shown to offer very useful assistance in some scenarios within the application areas mentioned above. This is so because, unlike other virtual devices and agents, they generate an affective bond with the most powerful user that brings them benefits when it comes to increasing motivation and the level of social skills, among others.
Why is the affective bond generated by social robots more powerful?
There are two elements that answer to this question. The first is that it is a physical being that can be touched and with which we can interact in a similar way to how we do with another living being and in the case of speech as we do with other people. That puts social robots close to a real pet. There is no software agent that achieves an effect with a similar intensity precisely because it is not physical.
This brings us to the second element. There are physical devices that you can interact with through language such as smart speakers. That's true. But on a mental level we are clear that a speaker is a speaker and not a pet, no matter how much we can talk to it. That is, it is not enough that it is something physical and speaks. It has to have a pattern of social behavior that fits our human schemas as a social being.
Cool. Social robots are cool! We equate them to the almost pet or companion level. They improve my motivation, my learning processes, keep me company and even improve my mental health because we generate affective bonds with them. Wait wait. Don't go buy one yet.
They generate affective bonds. Yes. However, this link is difficult to maintain over time.
Why is this link fading? And how long can this effect last?
The answer to the second question is shorter. It ranges from a few weeks to several months. During that time its benefits are those that we have described. In many cases, it is a more than reasonable time to achieve the objectives that are pursued. A school year, a therapy, a playmate. In this it is no different than any other solution. During its useful period, it is very useful. But once the bonding effect is lost, its benefits also diminish. Do not forget that its strength is in the extra motivation that this link provides.
The answer to why it is fading is more complex. It has to do with the very purpose of social robots. These have been conceived with the interaction and communication with them in mind. In how is that interaction at each precise moment. To make it as natural and simple as possible. They were not designed to establish emotional ties, neither in the short nor in the long term. The fact of establishing them has been discoverer later. And the fact that that bond is weakened is still something that should be part of its evolutionary improvement as a robot.
Okay. So if I have a need in the area of social skills that I want to satisfy or improve in the short term, today's social robots are the answer. And if I need a more durable solution? A clear example is helping older people who live alone. Its life expectancy is years. A solution for a few months does not work.
As I was saying, social robots need to evolve as a species to satisfy the need to be your pet, your companion, your mentor or your long-term friend. They need not only to provide a natural, simple and pleasant mechanism for interaction and communication. Not just establishing a perishable bond. They need to establish a lasting relationship with you.
From this need arises a new concept of social robots: relational AI robots. Sounds good.
What are Relational AI Robots?
They are evolved social robots that takes advantage of the classic capabilities of social robots and uses artificial intelligence to build a stronger emotional relationship and taking into account the medium and long term. In other words, each interaction with you counts beyond the interaction itself. To learn and get to know you better. To evolve its personality. To adapt its behavior to you.
Simple to explain. Difficult to build.
How does it get it?
A social robot already provides an initial advantage. Although it is not enough to apply artificial intelligence to analyze all the interaction data and find patterns, perform simulations and predictions, and make behavioral decisions. All this has to be done, it is necessary but it is not enough.
In order for our brain loves on to this type of robot in the long term, its behavior and personality must include the following ingredients:
- Surprise. It has to surprise you. Not every time you interact with him. But yes from time to time. It should surprise you with what it does and the time chosen to do it.
- Narrative. Some time ago we published a post in which we told you about the vital importance of narrative. As humans, our appetite for good stories is insatiable.
- Novelty. In the non-routine sense. Sometimes it must be predictable: if you give him an order you want him to comply with it. But except on those occasions, you don't want to know that response B always comes after action A.
- Play. You like to play. We do not know to what. But you like to play something safe. Because it makes you have a good time. It entertains you. You have a good time when you play. And if it is with someone else, it is better.
- Cooperation. Do not forget that it is still a robot and is there to help you achieve your goals, within its limitations, working alongside you. For that you want a partner: to do things together and achieve things together.
- Humor. This ingredient is also important for our brain to get hooked. A funny personality is not the same as a boring personality. What do you agree to?
Very well. Now that you know what a relational AI robot is, I suppose you want to know if this concept of robots already exists in the market or remains in the realm of theory or research.
Are there relational AI robots on the market?
The answer is yes. The first relational AI robot introduced to the market is the Aiko robot. It is the first robot of the first generation of relational AI robots. And yes, as you can imagine, it includes all of the above features. And some others that you will discover if you take one home with you ;-).
The applications of the Aiko robot are the same as those of a traditional social robot, only the effect of its benefits is higher and longer lasting.
The Aiko robot has been conceived with three main uses in mind:
- Children's learning both in the classroom and at home, including the particular needs of each child, whether they are called special or of any other nature.
- Family entertainment where Aiko becomes one more member of the family with whom she can learn, play and have a good time.
- Reducing the feeling of loneliness of the elderly who live alone in their homes. For these people, the simple fact of being able to have small conversations is enough to prevent mental health problems and degenerative mental illnesses.
Loneliness is not an exclusive problem for older people
We all think that mental health problems and loneliness mainly occur in our grandparents. They are the first ones that come to your mind, there is no doubt. But they are not the only ones affected. And outside of them, these problems have a great silent impact on people at a health level but also at an economic level (costs are estimated at € 24,000 per year per person with a mental health problem).
Watch out. It is not just a problem caused by the pandemic.
According to a study published by You Gov, millennials are currently emerging as the loneliest generation. To be exact, 3 out of 10 young adults admit feeling lonely "always or on occasion", while only 15% of baby boomers share that feeling along with 20% of Gen-Z born between 1995 and 2010.
In relation to this idea of raising children with a pet in the family, research recently published in the journal Pediatric Research, stated that children who live with a dog are 23% less likely to suffer difficulties related to management emotional, 40% less also of having problems when it comes to relating and 34% more of being prone to share their things with others.
Robots like Aiko almost fill the role of a pet. Obviously not the same. But almost. The benefits can be similar with fewer inconveniences such as your diet, hygiene, care, exercise, etc. And don't forget that pets don't talk.
You simply have to take them as one more option to value depending on each one.
Social robots are an excellent solution for certain areas of applications such as the development of social skills, motivation for the learning process, entertaining, playing and keeping company; provided that its application does not require establishing a relationship in the medium or long term.
When this is the case, the new relational AI robots are the best option, since they are an evolution of social robots designed to generate and consolidate longer lasting affective bonds.
Relational AI robots must include a number of elements that make them unique: surprise, narrative, novelty, play, cooperation, and humor. They provide the necessary plus so that the experience is a success and does not fall into demotivation.
Finally, the Aiko robot is the first commercial robot to champion this new generation of social robots created to generate long-term relationships necessary to obtain the aforementioned benefits in a systematic way over time.
Do you want to know more about the Aiko robot?
On our website you can see its characteristics, functions and all the services that we have developed so that the experience is very satisfactory in these usage scenarios: learning, entertainment and solitude. There are also others that we have not mentioned but that we keep very much in mind: special needs, mental health, programming and personalization.
If for convenience you prefer to have everything in one place, please download our dossier.
Relational AI robots are highly advanced artificial beings that have come to overcome the shortcomings of traditional social robots and find their place in our homes.
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