In an attempt to build a “symbiotic society”, a team at Osaka University in Japan have developed a robot programmed to wince when an electric charge is applied to its 'skin'. It is further hoped that coding pain sensors into machines will help in creating empathy for human suffering. According to media reports, it is believed to help the robots to help them act as compassionate companions. The lead researcher Professor Minoru Asada who is also the President of the Robotics Society of Japan reportedly said that in Japan, it is believed all inanimate objects “have a soul”. Therefore, a “metal robot is no different from a human in that respect”.
Asada also said that there are fewer boundaries between humans and objects. According to media reports when he was asked if the future regarding human-machine relationship was predicted in the movie 'Blade Runner' which is based on Philip K Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is possible, Asada thinks scientists are “not far away from that technically”. He further added that the ethics of the issue are another matter.
He also elaborated that scientists are planning to embed the touch and pain nervous system into the robot to make the machine feel pain. This would further enable it to understand touch and pain in others. If this is made possible, empathy and morality can also emerge in the machine. Asada said that scientists are “aiming to construct a symbiotic society with artificially intelligent robots” with a robot that can feel pain is an essential component of that kind of society.
While scientists in Japan are trying to embed pain and touch senses in the robot, scientists at John Hopkins University have recently developed a robot snake that mimics the reptile's movements in order to traverse obstacles. According to reports, the scientists that developed the robot hope that it will navigate treacherous terrains such as earthquake and flood-affected areas that may lead to better search and rescue.
This robot can reportedly be of great use to search and rescue teams that work at disaster sites. It can access small crevices and areas that would have previously been accessible and search for survivors, saving countless lives in the process. According to reports, scientists observed the movement of snakes keenly and made a robot that can climb large steps nimbly just like them.