Lesson of the Day: ‘Should Robots Have a Face?’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Should Robots Have a Face?’

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Featured Article: “Should Robots Have a Face?” by Michael Corkery

As automation comes to retail industries, companies are giving machines more humanlike features in order to make them liked, not feared.

In this lesson, you will learn about the growing presence of robots in the workplace and their impact on the human workers around them. In a Going Further activity, you will consider the future of robots in the workplace and design your own robot.

When you hear the word robot what do you imagine?

Do you envision something futuristic and otherworldly — or humanlike? Is your picture of a robot fantastical and perhaps a little frightening, or is it familiar and comforting?

Take a few moments to sketch your general image of a robot. Afterward, share it with a partner or the whole class.

Now, look through the photos and captions featured in the article. Then respond to these questions in writing or with a partner:

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. What was Tina Sorg’s reaction the first time she saw the robot rolling through her Giant supermarket in Harrisburg, Pa.? How did she remedy the concerns she had about its appearance?

2. What kinds of industries and workplaces are robots working in now? Why are some people concerned that automation technology will negatively affect jobs held by humans?

3. Choose one of the robots featured in the article: Describe the tasks it performs and the advantages it has over humans doing the same work?

4. Why do retailers say that robots are good for their workers? Do you find their arguments persuasive?

5. Who were the Luddites? What does Peter Hancock, a professor at the University of Central Florida, see as their relevance today?

6. What does the birthday party for the robot Marty illustrate about the coexistence of humans and robots in the workplace? Does the article make you more optimistic about the increasing role of robots in the workplace? What concerns do you have?

Choose one or more of the following activities:

1) Share your opinion.

  • What’s your reaction to the article? What did you find most interesting, surprising or provocative? Does it change your understanding of robots?

  • Which robot featured in the article would like to work with most? The least? Explain why. Did you have a favorite?

  • When you imagine the future of robots, do you get excited? Do you envision a world of benefits for humankind? Or do you fear countless professions becoming obsolete, the merging of humans and machines, or a potential robot uprising? Or are you excited about all the possibilities such a future could hold? Explain why you feel the way you do.

2) What’s your favorite robot in pop culture?

There have been many memorable depictions of robots throughout history in pop culture, literature, films and television shows — robots like WALL-E, R2-D2 and C-3PO? Which is your favorite and why? Which fictional robot would you most like to work or spend time with? Which do you find most scary?

3) Design your own robot.

Your robot can be practical or fantastical, but be creative and have fun. For your design, keep in mind both form and function:

  • Form: What will your robot look like? Will it be futuristic, weird or friendly? Will it look like an inkjet printer with a long neck with eyes like Marty? Or will it have more humanlike features? How will your robot’s appearance influence how people interact with it? What materials will it be made out of? Why?

  • Function: What is the purpose of your robot? What specific functions will it carry out? Will it do practical tasks such as unloading boxes, detecting spills and scanning shelves for out-of-stock items, like some of the robots featured in the article? Or will it provide personal assistance, companionship — or even love?