Friday, October 23, 2015

Futurist Friday: RoboKindness

Here are some facts on autism in the US, from the advocacy group Autism Speaks:

  • Autism now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys
  • Autism prevalence figures are growing
  • Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder in the U.S.
Their website also says "there is no medical detection or cure for autism," but from a futurist perspective, we may be on the cusp of detection and, if not a cure, at least more effective therapy.  

Just last month, researchers at the University of California at Irvine announced they have found a biomarker for some forms of autism, that may suggest potential theraputic approaches for adjusting cellular signaling mechanisms. 

But while we wait for drug trials or even (further out) gene therapy, other technologies are coming into play.

For your Futurist Friday viewing this week, I would like to introduce Milo--an robot designed to "help children learn to express empathy, self-motivate, and navigate social situations." As this article points out, therapy dogs are already doing great work with many autistic children, and "using robots is one more way of reaching children that are difficult to engage socially." [Video a bit over 5 minutes.]

While you watch, notice how you, whether you are autistic or neurotypical, react to Milo. Does he fall into the "uncanny valley" of seeming almost, but not quite, human? (And therefor creepy,)  Or does he trigger empathetic response? 

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