No hypothetical threats, these

My Artdog Images of Interest for most of this month have focused on places of natural wonder that are under threat, with the hope that–if we’re working to build a better future–they still can be preserved. Mining hasn’t happened at the Grand Canyon yet. No one has begun to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge . . . yet.

Grand Escalante, at left in blue, with a significantly reduced footprint; the decimated Bears Ears at right in red.

Unfortunately, my subjects today aren’t under hypothetical threatThe Very Stable Genius in Chief has already decimated two national monuments in Utah, with great fanfare and self-congratulation for rolling back a “massive federal land grab,” and striking a blow for “states’ rights.”  (Side note: Ever notice how it was “opening the West,” when Europeans invaded tribal homelands, but it’s a “massive federal land grab” when white ranchers’ or mineral developers’ access is restricted?)

It should be no surprise that indigenous groups, including the Navajo Nation, and environmentalists have launched protests and filed lawsuits, but were not consulted when the boundaries were redrawn.

Granted, some of the more spectacular sites, such as the Dry Fork Slot Canyons, (including PeekaBoo and Spooky, featured in the video above) and the Toadstool Hoodoos still remain in Wilderness Study Areas, and thus are mostly still protected from development.

A somewhat unique view of the Toadstool Hoodoos, still in a Wilderness Study Area (no thanks to Mr. Trump).

Other areas? Not so much. Despite the economic stimulus brought to southern Utah by a tourism boom after President Clinton’s designation of the Kaiparowits Plateau (with its Late Cretaceous “Dinosaur Shangri-La” fossil beds) as part of Grand Escalante National Monument, Mr. Trump’s administration seems to have listened only to the mining and oil interests who have long bemoaned “that the Staircase monument has strangled economic development in Kane and Garfield counties for the past 21 years.” The area is now available once again for renewal of dormant oil and gas leases, or the granting of new ones.

If you follow paleontology at all, you probably already know about the Kaiparowits Plateau, the scene of many important finds over the last two decades since Clinton protected them. Just last October, paleontologists announced a major new find. “With at least 75 percent of its bones preserved, this is the most complete skeleton of a tyrannosaur ever discovered in the southwestern US,” said Dr. Randall Irmis of the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Future finds such as this newly-discovered Tyrannosaur skeleton may soon be at risk from nearby mineral development.

Equally endangered are many ancient cultural sites in places such as the Dark Canyon Wilderness, Cedar Mesa, and the White Canyon area, which are now more open to less-restricted public access, along with the near-certainty of looting and vandalism“Only a very small part of this area has been subject to a cultural resources inventory,” Tim Peterson, a program director at the Grand Canyon Trust told Nadja Popovich of the New York Times in December.

Not-so-protected petroglyphs from what used to be part of Bears Ears National Monument–photo by Mason Cummings.
Cliff dwellings such as this one in the Dark Canyon Wilderness are now more vulnerable to looting and vandalism, much to the dismay of local tribal groups and others concerned with preserving cultural sites in the area that until recently was part of Bears Ears National Monument.

We may never know everything we stand to lose, in the wake of this Trumpian downsizing move. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned so much–but which appears to be another likely result–is the loss of wildlife corridors, particularly because there will be fewer restrictions on development.

So–is all now lost? No. Environmental and tribal groups already have already filed lawsuits to block Trump’s changes to these two monuments. If you feel strongly about this, two immediate paths of action are available.

First, donate to groups such as The Sierra Club or Natural Resources Defense Council, which are among the ten environmental groups that have filed suit, or the Native American Rights Fund, which CNN reported is representing the Hopi, Zuni and Ute Mountain Ute in the lawsuit.

Second, write or call your representatives in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate, to let them know your opinion. They can’t directly block an executive action, but they do have to weigh in on any changes to Wilderness Study Areas, among other things, and they are in charge of funding decisions. Contrary to the intransigence I often receive from the three men who purport to represent me in Washington (Rep. Kevin Yoder, Sen. Pat Roberts, and Sen. Jerry Moran), SOME people’s elected representatives even listen to them!

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Salt Lake Tribune for the map showing original and shrunken outlines of the two national monuments (the article was written before the official changes, but the maps turned out to be pretty accurate). I also am grateful to Climb Utah and YouTube for information and the imagery from the Dry Fork Slot Canyons; to TripAdvisor’s article about the Toadstool Hoodoos for the photo of that feature (check the page for many more photos!); and to the Natural History Museum of Utah, for the photo of the newly-discovered tyrannosaur fossil from the Kaiparowits Plateau. Many thanks also to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and photographer Mason Cummings, for the photo of petroglyphs in one of the newly-exposed areas that used to be part of Bears Ears National Monument, and to the US Forest Service, via Howard Myerson’s “The Outdoor Journal,” for the photo of a cliff dwelling in the Dark Canyon Wilderness.

Drill, baby, drill?

The Artdog Images of Interest

As I noted last week, this month’s theme is working toward a better future, and my Images of Interest for the rest of the month feature amazing places in the United States that are threatened or actively under attack. As long as they continue to exist, we can still fight to save them, even if things are looking bad at the moment.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is one such place that is under threat. Not immediately, but the Trump Administration has green-lighted the initiative to begin drilling there, so the process has definitely started. 

What kind of damage is that likely to do? That first link may have a dated lede, but the rest still applies. It’s also true that tundra “heals” after disruption extremely slowly.

ANWR is so enormous, no single picture can hope to capture its variety and beauty. It’s true that five won’t do it either, but I’ve tried to find a good variety to give a small taste of what’s at stake.

IMAGES: Many thanks to William Bonilla and Defenders of Wildlife for the polar bear photo taken in the ANWR; to Robert Salazar and Origami for an Interdependent World (what a cool idea!), for the photo of the famous Porcupine Caribou, a subspecies; to Peter Mather and The Wilderness Society for the lakeshore-and-clouds image from the refuge; to Florian Schulz and The Audubon Society for the aerial photo of the braided river, plains and mountains in the refuge; and to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for the photo of the mountain foothills. sloping down to a plain in the ANWR. I deeply appreciate all!

What do we value?

My theme this month is “working toward a better future.” That probably is a pretty common and predictable topic at the turn of the year, when it seems as if we have a new chance to “get things right.” 

NOTE: every day actually is a new chance. Every hour. But many of us do tend to think about it more around New Year’s.

How “right” we can get things depends in part on the cards in our hand, however. Last year at this point, for instance, certain decisions already had been made. Votes had been cast, and irrevocable changes set in motion. We dodged a few bullets in 2017, but some dies already had been cast by this time last year. In this context, I’ve been thinking about a pair of “takes”  on current events, by two commentators whom I respect.

4-27-08 Al DIAZ / MIAMI HERALD STAFF — Leonard Pitts Jr. Miami Herald Staff.

The first is a recent column by the ever-perceptive Leonard Pitts, Jr., a columnist based at the Miami Herald. He wrote that “our sense of what is allowable and acceptable on the public stage, have been eroding for years, but 2017 saw the process accelerate like Usain Bolt. It was the year things that are not supposed to happen happened all day, every day.”

He goes on to lay out the argument that we’ve come to a place in the public discourse where “anger, coarseness, political destabilization, and a trickle-down nastiness [is] visible both in anecdotes and in hate-crime statistics.”

But he doesn’t leave it there. He’s one of my favorite columnists because he always takes it to the next step. He ended his column, not with a groan of despair but with a call to action: “civil society is not something you take for granted. It’s a choice you make, a thing you have to fight for. Which will be a fitting mission for 2018 and beyond.”

Resisting the tide of discord and “trickle-down nastiness” is an honorable goal, and it is our daily choice. I’d like to echo Pitts’s challenge as well as respond to it in my own life. We also were treated in the last few days to another ringing call fo a better future, when Oprah Winfrey was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2018 Golden Globes. In case you haven’t heard her speech, or even if you have, but want to hear it again, I’ve embedded a YouTube video of it here.

Even if some things look bleak as we move into 2018 and beyond, let us “maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights.” Let us all affirm together we “know that a new day is on the horizon,” because we are working to make it so.

Let us never lose hope, and never allow our weariness to keep us from continuing to fight for “the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again,” and we live in a civil society where  the dignity and value of all persons are respected, basic human rights are demanded for all, and where we cherish the well-being of this fragile globe that we call home. It’s only too late if we give up on the values we hold most dear.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Jeremy Graham, Sr. on Ingrum, for the “Working towards a better future” image, and to Al Diaz and the Miami Herald for Leonard Pitts’s photo, via his profile on Speakerpedia. Many thanks to CNN for the transcript of Oprah Winfrey’s speech, and to NBC via YouTube for the video of Oprah’s acceptance speech.

We ALL live in a potential disaster zone–but we’re not helpless

Which Disaster Zone do you prefer?

That was the question my Beloved asked, not long after Hurricane Maria finished doing the job on Puerto Rico that Irma had left half-finished, and the central Mexico earthquake had leveled significant portions of the region.

His question caught his co-workers by surprise, but–if you think about it–none of us really should be surprised. So, then, what’s your answer? Where would you rather live?

You could live in a tropical paradise like Barbuda or Puerto Rico, where a hurricane can level your entire island in a few harrowing hours, or where rising sea levels threaten to swamp your home, your livelihood, and your most beloved scenic areas.

Photo of El Capitan rock slide by climber Peter Zabrock.

You could live in a mountainous region with breathtakingly gorgeous peaks, cliff faces that shear off without warning, enormous swaths of drought-parched forests that one careless cigarette butt or lightning-strike can ignite into an inferno that changes the weather and denudes stabilizing plant growth so you get buried in mudslides the next time it rains real hard. (The video that follows is from fires in 2015 but it’s representative.)

You could live in an earthquake zone, where grandfathered-in or shoddily-constructed buildings (or buildings on unstable ground) could collapse on you in seconds, and destroyed infrastructure may very well leave you with no water, no powerimpassable roadsand leaking natural gas.

For more amazing before-and-after Mexico City photos from The New York Times please click the link for the entire article.

You could live within range of a volcano that could turn your neighborhood into a “lunar landscape” of ash and death. I’m looking at you, Ring of Fire–but don’t smirk too hard, Plains States: do you know what lies beneath Yellowstone National Park?

Lava trees–actually the places where trees once stood–after a Hawaiian volcanic eruption.

You could live, as I do, in “Tornado Alley,” where extremes of weather created by our position in the middle of a large continent spawn violent storms during much of the year, and extremes of politics create danger from poorly-regulated toxic materials (think about Picher, OK, or Times Beach, MO), and many other insidious hazards (unfortunately, the NAACP’s travel advisory on Missouri seems all too reasonable, to this Missouri native). To be fair, though, none of the US is all that safe from racismgun violencepollution, and crumbling infrastructure.

An abandoned home in Times Beach, MO.

We can’t do much about some of the risks and hazards that surround us every day–but there are other things we can do, from building wisely for the kinds of environmental hazards our area faces (more on that in future posts) to speaking out and working for a cleaner, safer world where every person, no matter how troubled or disadvantaged, is seen as a being of infinite worth.

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Washington Post, for the video of Utuado, Puerto Rico’s situation after Hurricane Maria. I deeply appreciate climber Peter Zabrock’s photo (via the Associated Press) and The San Francisco Chronicle for the vision of the rockslide on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, and CBS This Morning for the video of the 2015 fires in the San Bernardino area of California. The  amazing before-and-after photos from Mexico city, published by The New York Timesare part of a larger article, featuring many more photos. Many thanks to Amusing Planet’s article, “The Lava Trees of Hawaii,” for the arresting post-eruption image of what used to be a forest. The photo of a ruin in Times Beach, MO, is from a Danish Pinterest board, “Udforsk disse idéer og meget mere!” (Explore these ideas and more).

To automate, or not to automate? Working with kids

A Glimpse of the Future?

In recent weeks my mid-week posts have focused on the contemporary trend among all kinds of industries to increasingly use robotics or other types of automation, rather than hiring extra workers.

It’s a phenomenon that impacts all kinds of workers–in ALL socio-economic brackets, except maybe for that seemingly-impervious top 1%–and across widely-varied industries. Today, in the last of this series, I intend to address the topic that originally inspired me to look into it in the first place.

I am a retired teacher. Indeed, from its inception in 2009 through mid-2013, the title of this blog was Artdog Educator, and it focused pretty exclusively on education topics. Although both I and the blog have shifted our focus since then, I have been and always will be professionally interested in how people learn.

Thus, I was dumbfounded to read in Education Week recently that there actually are people in New York who think it’s a good idea to save money by replacing substitute teachers with e-learning. What is e-learning? In case you couldn’t figure it out, it’s training conducted via the Internet.

Now . . . educators have anything but a stellar history in the use of digital media for teaching. For a variety of understandable but lamentable reasons, it has taken heroic efforts to get educators anywhere close to up-to-speed in this area. I examined that dynamic in some detail, in a 2011 series that kicked off with the post Teaching Like it’s 1980.

Slowly and painfully, however, educators at all levels have finally–somewhat–in spite of all countervailing forces–embraced digital media. Given that, and the global movement to automate all possible jobs (whether it’s a good idea or not), some brilliant genius, sooner or later, was going to come up with this.

As with the periodic call to “run education like a business,” I can guarantee you that no one who has ever actually BEEN a substitute teacher came up with this plan. I, on the other hand, have racked up ten years’ cumulative, hard-won substitute-teaching experience. 

A little boy and his teacher observe as a Nao robot (by Aldebaran Robotics) writes an equation.

First, let’s backtrack a bit. In my research for this series I’ve run onto the idea that robots or automation could take over several different aspects of childcare or education, from babysitting through early learning, distance learning, and substitute teaching.

It’s intuitive, right? I mean, kids seem inextricably attached to their digital devices, and, after all, parents have been parking their kids in front of the “electronic babysitter” (AKA television/videos) for years.

Great idea! The Trix Cereal Rabbit as your babysitter. What could possibly go wrong?

Sure. And if you think “Nao” or the TV could actually be a good babysitter in the total absence of parents or other supervising adults, just try it. See how quickly you come up on child endangerment charges!

A robot, at the current level of development, couldn’t control the situation. The kid knows that thing isn’t a real person, and has no authority. S/he would play with it for a while, get bored, and go wandering off unsupervised to face the myriad dangers of whatever the world threw at him/her.

Digital media present the same problem in the substitute-teaching scenario. Used in conjunction with a good lesson plan and alert (adult, human, in-charge) substitute teacher, they’ve gotten many a class through many a lesson with some actual learning and student engagement taking place.

E-learning can’t replace an engaging, knowledgeable human teacher who’s firmly in charge of things.

Absent the alert, adult, human, in-charge substitute teacher, you’ve got guaranteed chaos. No matter what the grade penalties, 99% of any class will do anything BUT the busywork on the computer. Any class I ever stepped into as a substitute was extremely reluctant to conduct “business as usual.” They generally required a very firm hand and a lot of creative engagement to successfully establish a genuine learning environment. 

The intrinsic fascination with learning via the Internet has long since faded for digital natives; to them, it’s old hat. They need to believe it’s worth their time–AND more interesting than all the other things they could be doing–for any plan to “replace substitute teachers with e-learning” to actually work.

Digital natives are doing their own thing, when they’re totally wrapped up in their digital media. Doesn’t mean they’ll do lessons unsupervised.

Substitute teaching, done well, is hard work (kinda like nursing! Or developing and writing news stories! Or . . . you get the idea, I hope). It requires a dedicated professional who knows the discipline s/he is to teach, if it’s not to be a wasted “babysitting day”–and we haven’t been able to afford those, for a long time.

If the Independent Budget Office of the City of New York (or any other bright-eyed bean-counters in a similar position) think otherwise, they should try it for themselves. I dare them.

Meanwhile, if they can’t get enough qualified substitute teachers, maybe they should try offering them “combat pay.”

IMAGES: Thanks yet again to Before it’s News, for the “vision of the future” graphic. The e-learning photo is courtesy of UNITAR/UN ESCAP E-Learning. Many thanks to International Business Times, for the photo of the NAO robot in a south Australian classroom (note adult human teacher also in the picture), and to Frenzy Advertisement for the photo of the kids watching a Trix commercial on TV. Many thanks to TheSHRINKRap’s post “Engaging teachers means engaged students,” for the photo of the teacher with an engaged group of students, and to CathNews USA for the photo of the student with an iPad.

To automate, or not to automate? Writers, attorneys, and financial advisors on the line

A Glimpse of the Future?

My recent mid-week posts have focused on the phenomenon of automation in the contemporary workplace–that is, “machines taking over our jobs,” and looking at trends for the future.

Last week, I tackled robotics and automation in the health care industry. Today I’m focused on the symbolic logic crowd, that is, people who mostly traffic in numbers and letters. Thus, I’m looking at writers, attorneys, and financial advisors.

They’re all white-collar jobs, and aspects of each require judgement, creativity, and empathy–but other aspects “turn out to be routine and process-based.” That’s just the kind of thing computers do best.

But writing? Law? Higher-level financial analysis? Well, yeah. With caveats.

Writing 

This one kinda hurts, but certain types of data-heavy information can pretty readily be transformed into prose using a process Klint Finley of Wired describes as “a more complex version of Mad Libs meets mail merge.” Two companies, Automated Insights and Narrative Science are the main contenders in the field at the moment.

The primary uses for this software so far have been in the areas of financial news, sportswriting, and industrial communications. Organizations such as the Associated Press and Fox News have discovered it is (big surprise, here) “considerably less expensive for us to go this route than for us to try to have our own beat reporters at each one of these games,” (That’s Michael Calderon, Big Ten’s director of new media, speaking with Bloomberg Businessweek).

But of course it’s expanding. As a science fiction novelist, I’m under no illusions. Some genres are more friendly toward “formulaic” plots than others (I’ll leave you to judge which ones those might be), but I’m sure the day is coming soon when you’ll be able to plug in certain character and plot elements and the software will crank out a complete “novel” or “short story.”

On the other hand, we’re still very far from a computer that can go into a war zone and make sense of the chaos, write a meaningful human-interest article, or build an exposé, piece by exacting piece. And so far we’re still unable to distill that special “something” that transforms a novel into a mega-bestseller that strikes a chord in millions (if we could, they all would be). We still need human hearts and minds (and a lot of luck!) for that.

Legal Practice

Turns out there’s a lot of mundane drudgery in the practice of law, and untold numbers of documents to review. Firms used to have no choice but to hire a fleet of lawyers and paralegals to review them, but now there’s software to cover that angle. As attorney Bill Herr pointed out to the New York Times, “People get bored, people get headaches. Computers don’t.”

As in the case of doctors, however, you needn’t look for robots to start donning barristers’ wigs or delivering closing arguments in court for a while to come, though I fear the pioneering efforts on that front may come in the form of legal-aid robots for the defense of low-income criminal defendants. Would that be found to be constitutional? (And what would the originalists think of it?)

But behind the scenes, computers are already hard at work. For now, they’re probably cutting down the entry level jobs for lawyers, but their best potential is to save the efforts of the humans for the things that matter most.

Financial Industry Professionals 

Stock trading has forever been transformed by computer-based algorithmic trading, in which high volumes of stocks are traded “using automated pre-programmed trading instructions accounting for variables such as time, price, and volume.” 

However, as you’ve probably extrapolated from the section above that discussed financial writing and business communications, automation has gone much farther since the first automated trading systems went online in the 1970s and ’80s. With all the things they can plug into algorithms these days, have humans become superfluous?

Well, maybe not yet.

Assuming one is fortunate enough to need guidance for investment strategies, we’re still short of a technological singularity, which would place a computer in possession of all the critical thinking, synthesis, and empathy needed to serve human laypersons who have other things to do with their time besides manage their stock portfolios.

Till then, I’d still advise checking with a well-trained, credentialed human.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Before It’s News for the “future vision” graphic, to ResearchPedia.Info, for the “difference between stock market and stock exchange” photo montage, and to Sports Management Degrees for the graphic of the football with data behind it. I am grateful to the Criminal Lawyers and Attorneys organization for the courtroom photo, and to The Balance for the photo of the financial advisor with her clients.

To automate, or not to automate? Robo-health-care?

A Glimpse of the Future?

Several recent mid-week posts have addressed aspects of the contemporary and projected issue of automation in the workplace–especially in the area of “machines taking over our jobs.”

A growing number of people think that artificially intelligent robots might take over jobs in white-collar professions, moving far beyond the traditional roles of “the three D’s: dangerous, dirty, and dull,” as robotics expert Ryan Calo calls them. Today I want to talk about health care.

Exactly what do people mean, when they talk about robots “taking over” the jobs of doctors, nurses, or other health care workers? I’m not sure all mean the same things. One thing they almost certainly do not mean is Emergency Medical Holgram Mark I (as portrayed by actor Robert Picardo on TV’s Star Trek: Voyager from 1995-2001).

Don’t expect to meet any Emergency Medical Holograms in your neighborhood hospital anytime soon!

But it’s a question worth asking, all the same. Richard and Daniel Susskind noted in a 2016 Harvard Business Review article that “There are more monthly visits to the WebMD network, a collection of health websites, than to all the doctors in the United States.”

Okay. But is that a salient observation? A quick Internet check to research a question for free takes a whole lot less time, hassle and expense than a trip to see your doctor. I’m not sure this compares apples to apples, guys.

Also, I don’t know any health care professionals who greet with joy (or any expectation of an accurate analysis) the news that their patient looked up his problem on WebMD and has already diagnosed it, “so doctor, you just have to prescribe this kind of pill for me . . .”

Yeah, right. WebMD is a research resource, not a doctor, any more than FindLaw.Com is a lawyer.

Do medical websites such as WebMD actually erode trust between doctors and patients? A 2015 post on LiveClinic Healthcare Blog makes a point that in some cases they might.

However, the Susskinds’ research involved a comprehensive survey of the literature about changes in industry, automation technology, and society, as well as more than 100 interviews with experts in cutting-edge development from a variety of disciplines, so their analysis shouldn’t be discounted or ignored.

When they looked at all the various things doctors and other professionals do, they found that “when professional work is broken down into component parts, many of the tasks involved turn out to be routine and process-based. They do not in fact call for judgment, creativity, or empathy.” In other words, although we don’t have terribly creative or empathic robots currently, there are elements to a professional’s job which don’t require those traits. It’s not hard to make the leap to the idea of the doctor delegating those things to a machine.

It’s true that surgical robots can do many procedures a human surgeon simply could not. Very few of them currently involve autonomous robotics–a doctor still has his/her hands on the controls. But that could change as these machines grow more sophisticated. FW: Thinking has a really informative video on this topic that I hope you’ll find as interesting as I did (relax: no blood) :

There also are other uses for robots that may not exactly eliminate the human doctor’s role so much as extend it. Some retail pharmacy chains, such as CVS and Rite Aid, have been piloting in-store health kiosks. Robert Thompson of Rite Aid says his stores’ interface “pairs licensed healthcare providers with state-of-the-art technology to deliver a truly unique solution to consumers looking for convenient and quality healthcare.” 


Telemedicine has enjoyed a worldwide advent, out of necessity.  “Doctors are examining patients continents away with interactive robots and hi-tech visuals. These robots are fully mobile, with computer screens for heads and real-time video cameras for eyes and ears. Doctors operate them by using a joystick and wireless technology.”

The Doctor will see you now . . . via telemedicine. There’s still a human doctor in this equation, so it’s not exactly a replacement. You might note there’s also a real live human healthcare practitioner at the patient’s bedside as well. Robots have seen particularly robust adoption in Japanese hospitals.

Extending the role of doctors may become an absolute necessity in the near future. We’ve heard about a looming worldwide shortage of doctors for years, and in April 2016 the Association of American Medical Colleges pointed to strong indicators of coming shortages in the U.S., in several broad categories. We may end up coping with this in a variety of ways, including more care given by physicians’ assistants or nurse practitioners–or the use of telemedicine or other automated functions.

There’s a shortage of nurses, too, which is leading some observers to predict automation will move into that job category, too. In 2015 a headline on the Horizon Healthcare Staffing website rather chillingly proclaimed, “Robots will replace nurses sooner rather than later,” which I think would worry me if I worked for Horizon Healthcare Staffing. As with doctors, however, when you look at the details I think replace may be a stretch, at least in the near term. More like “assist” or “augment.”

Introducing Actroid-F, a robotic nurse created by Kokoro Co. Ltd. This robot is designed to provide bedside empathy to patients, but I fear she would seriously weird me out–she’s most definitely from Uncanny Valley territory, in my view! The Japanese, however, reportedly have a more comfortable cultural relationship with robots. I sure hope so.

The HHS article describes the entry of robots into the Japanese health care setting in glowing terms: “Robots already play a key role in Japanese hospitals and healthcare facilities. They are able to look after senior citizens, sing with them, and engage with them in other activities.” Maybe seniors like to sing with them; who knows? After all, the Japanese were the ones who invented karaoke.

However, a motivating factor for the increasing use of robots in Japan is the fear that as the Japanese population ages, there won’t be enough health care workers to take care of them if they don’t create robots to do so. I think if they insist on using exclusively Japanese health care workers they’re right, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.

This is Panasonic’s Hospi Type R, essentially a self-driving medicine chest on wheels, “designed to move fragile or bulky medicine and equipment around a hospital.” Wi-fi, cameras, and preprogrammed maps help it navigate; it’s locked by a system that uses an ID security card for access. It was nicknamed “the pink Dalek”–clearly by someone who doesn’t have a clue about the Daleks‘ favorite one-word catchphrase!


In the Asian healthcare scene, “More and more, hospitals all over the world are realizing that robots are efficient messengers who transport materials like food, x-rays, and linens throughout the hospital, saving wear and tear on the feet of over-worked nurses and aides.” Or medicines–pharmacy robots on wheels!–as does the Hospi Type R, shown above.

To my mind a good argument for using robots in a nursing situation would be for tasks “that are physically very demanding and stressful for humans”  (All at once we’re back to Ryan Calo’s “three Ds”).

This is Robear, a prototype robot designed in an effort not to scare the living crap out of fragile elderly patients while it helps to transport them safely. Why a bear? It’s supposed to look “like a friendly polar bear.” Okay. Well, no uncanny valley problems here, anyway!

Not sure how Robear would work in real life? here’s a very short video:

Horizon Healthcare Staffing might not be able to get their hands on this nifty new tech fast enough, but I’ll be interested to see how well the public accepts Robear, the “pink Dalek,” Actroid-F, and their robotic kin.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Before it’s News, for the “vision of the future” graphic, and to Bonnie Hutchinson’s “Star Trek Voyager” Pinterest Board for the photo of Robert Picardo as EMH Mark I. 

I appreciated not only the photo of a doctor and patient talking to each other on LiveClinic’s interesting article “Do Computers erode Doctor and Patient Trust?” but also the article itself, which provides an interesting counterpoint to the Susskinds’ observation about WebMD. 

Many thanks to the Re-Tails Blog‘s post about health care robotics in retail pharmacies, for the photo of the telemedicine delivery robot with the hospital patient. 

My gratitude also goes out to WeirdAsiaNews for the photos of the robotic nurse Actroid-F, to The Verge for the photo of the Panasonic Hospi Type R, to NationalFutur, for the still photo of the Robear, and to WXYZ-TV Detroit and YouTube for the video of Robear in action.