Why are we so afraid of Death?

In the Annual Richard Dimbleby Lecture, BBC, this Monday, Sir Terry Pratchett offered a perhaps controversial view on medically assisted suicide in case of a terminal illness. Since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2007, he is openly furthering the debate about assisted suicide in Great Britain. He is proposing to be used as a test case for a tribunal that would be made up of specialists in palliative care, and hopefully in ethics as well. Most important criterion to be on the tribunal is to be over 45 years of age, in order to hopefully having gained a little wisdom and compassion. Both are needed to decide Continue reading “Why are we so afraid of Death?”

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Caring Robots

90px-2008_Taipei_IT_Month_Day2_Taipei_City_Government_Intelligent_Housekeeping_RobotBack in 1966 Joseph Weizenbaum created “ELIZA”, a relatively simple computer program which was meant to simulate a psychotherapist. The program worked largely by rephrasing a patient’s statements as questions which were then posed back to the patient. Many subjects reported preferring ELIZA to their human therapists, and some continued to value ELIZA’s therapy even after Wiezenbaum revealed ELIZA’s workings. (You can read a transcript of ELIZA in action here.)

Things have moved on somewhat since ELIZA’s day. Maja Matarić, a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southern California, has developed Robots that can provide advice and therapy to patients who have suffered strokes, or who suffer from Alzheimer’s. The Robot can monitor the patient’s movement as they perform a regime of physical therapy, using a combination of laser scanners and cameras, and provide encouragement and advice. But even more impressively, the robot can monitor how introverted or extroverted the patient is, and tailor the tone of their advice giving accordingly. One stroke patient reported much preferring the robot’s advice and encouragement to that of her husband . . .

Continue reading “Caring Robots”