Meet Paro: the digital therapeutic seal

 

In preparation for State Library’s opening of the Digital Futures Lab all kinds of amazing tech has been arriving in the post: 3D-pens; headsets that read brainwaves; Makey Makeys that turn bananas into pianos; Sprout computers that can, among other things, scan objects for 3D printing, and more. But the tech that’s gotten the most buzz from staff this week has been the Paro therapeutic robot seal.

Paro the therapeutic seal meets SLQ Staff Sarah

Paro the therapeutic seal meets SLQ Staff Sarah

Designed to enhance the relationship between carers and patients, Paro is used in aged and special care environments to improve socialisation and reduce stress and loneliness among patients. The fuzzy white baby seal with a shiny nose and huge black eyes blinks and moves its head and tail realistically, and makes crying sounds. It responds to touch, light, sound, temperature, and the way it’s being held, and can learn a new name. It is programmed to “want” to be calmed, and will cry until gently stroked and interacted with.

Having Paro in the office has provoked a diversity of responses from SLQ staff. Some treat it like a pet and want to hold and cuddle it. Others’ reactions range from a shrugging disinterest to a wary and unsettled sense of concern. Conversations around the nature of human relationships to artificial intelligence have cropped up in the lunch room, as have questions about the ethics of “outsourcing” compassion and companionship to the convenience machines are able to provide.

What do you think? Should robots assist us in caring for each other?

SLQ staff Mick and Iwona enjoy their Paro encounter.

SLQ staff Mick and Iwona enjoy their Paro encounter.

Come along, give Paro a cuddle and decide for yourself when our Digital Futures Lab opens February 11 in the SLQ Gallery, Level 2. Activities will include Wednesday Playdays where Paro (and many other devices and experiences) will feature, IT training on Saturdays, talks, virtual reality technology and more.

For more information about how you can get involved, check out our What’s on page: /whats-on/events/digital-futures.

Find out more about Paro: http://www.parorobots.com/

Or watch Paro in action: http://theconversation.com/robot-companions-are-coming-into-our-homes-so-how-human-should-they-be-63154.

Anne Pensalfini

Signature Program Support Officer

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