MetropolisposterThe magic of creating of intelligent machines that could interact with humans has long fascinated us (1). Early attempts were based on clockwork mechanisms and called Automatons. Fritz Lang, in his 1927 film Metropolis, created the ultimate mechanical woman who looked quite natural and fooled others that it was human (2). As a child, I first saw a robot in the film Forbidden Planet back in the middle 1950’s (3) provided we discount the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz whom I did see earlier. I even developed a screenplay for a film about a woman with an artificial, sentient hand but that’s another story.

Recently, I watched Robot & Frank (4). An anonymous film critic gives a brief overview of the film: “A funny & touching film that is very effective at getting the audience to identify and empathize with Frank Langella’s aging character, a former cat burglar who is gradually growing senile. Frank’s son buys him a robot caretaker –a health-nut disciplinarian with a soft spot in its hardware heart — and Frank eventually persuades the robot to be his partner-in-crime in some late-life capers he has planned.” (5)

Robot & Frank 2What I found interesting about Robot & Frank was how naturally Frank, after some initial rejection, began to treat the robot as a person. I know I talk back to the navigation computer in my car, so I see how easily we anthropomorphize things.

The development of robots as caregivers for older patients has seen much development in the last decade and many people are seeing such mechanical and electronic devices as real options in caregiving (6). The process of caregiving for anyone with serious limitations, physical or mental, has many, many downsides. If one is at home and family are the caregivers it’s usually fatigue and stress that becomes unbearable for the caregivers. If one is in an institution, then the professional caregivers (or sometimes caretakers) are often subject to errors caused by overwork, understaffing, insufficient training, minimal motivation, etc.  But a robot is tireless, not bored by repetition, consistent, reliable, always positive and upbeat and knows not stress. Thus, a robot, once all the programming and legal concerns are solved, can be very helpful to its charge and provide needed respite for the other caregivers.

So, who wants a robot?


  1. Automaton. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
  2. Metropolis (Universum Film, 1927)
  3. Forbidden Planet (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1956)
  4. Robot & Frank (Dog Run Pictures, 2012)
  5. frimp13. An amusing & affecting look at technology, aging, and family.
  6. Robotics Resources. Elder Care Robots, Are We There Yet.

Image Sources:

Robbie the Robot 2

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