Last Moment Robot Removes the Humanity From Empathy

Depending on your culture and your individual beliefs, the very last moments of life can be shrouded in fear or celebrated as the beginning of a new journey. But almost universal is the desire to be with loved ones when it is time to go. Artist, designer and engineer Dan Chen wanted to explore that desire and its limitations, so he built a machine that has already caused quite a stir among people of all belief systems: the Last Moment Robot.

The robot is designed to stroke the arm of a dying person and provide pre-recorded comforting phrases. As the stroking mechanism simulates the type of touch a human caretaker might perform, the robot tells the patient ” I am the Last Moment Robot. I am here to help you and guide you through your last moment on Earth. I am sorry that your family and friends can’t be with you right now, but don’t be afraid. I am here to comfort you. You are not alone, you are with me. Your family and friends love you very much, they will remember you after you are gone.”

Chen does not anticipate the Last Moment Robot actually taking the place of absent family members and friends. Rather, he built the very strange project as a sort of examination of the link between humanity and intimacy. Is it possible to achieve a tender moment between a non-living object and a human? Are we so obsessed with technology that we might one day outsource our tender moments to machines? So far, the robot has managed to give a lot of people the chills, but not in a warm and fuzzy kind of way.

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See more in Robotics or under Technology. June, 2012.