Recently, the Canadian Scholarship Trust (CST) put out their list of “Job Titles of 2030”. I enjoy career forecasts like this and was intrigued to see “Robot Counsellor” as one of the career options listed. 
My first thought was it would be a robot doing counselling. I have had online clients express relief that their online counsellor was a “real person and not a robot”. So I guess to some, robot counselling seems a natural extension of online counselling.
Reading this futuristic job title reminded me of ELIZA, the first computer ‘therapist’ from the 1960s. We’ve come a long way since those days!
It turns out that CST is predicting robots will be doing more household and caregiving work in the future and we will need counsellors to do needs assessment with individuals and families and also, prepare them for the changes having a robot will entail. And if the robot doesn’t “fit in”? Presumably the robot counsellor will assist you in sorting out your robot relationship issues or finding you a different model to meet your needs.
I was sceptical about this being only 16 years in the future and then I did some research. Starting with recent TEDTalks about robotic advancements. Oh My. If you haven’t seen it yet check out Henry Evans and his telepresence robot from Robots for humanity. Absolutely mind-blowing. You may also want to check other TEDTalks about robots that show empathy, have ‘self-awareness’, and learn from humans about how to interact. Not to mention robots that dance and do magic.
Heard about Paro? Paro is a therapeutic robot designed to be used with seniors with dementia and depression. Paro is shaped like a white seal and has been used in a number of different countries and settings. After the 2012 tsunami in Japan, Paro was used to comfort those who were living in shelters.
At the beginning of June another Japanese company, Southbank, unveiled ‘Pepper’, the world’s first personal robot that reads human emotions. The company website says “Pepper is a humanoid robot that takes his surroundings into consideration to react pro-actively… people can enjoy communicating with Pepper in a natural way, just like they would with friends and family.”
The company vision includes an interest in “robot technology as a means to enhance the quality of life” and they have “made a new entry into the robot business with the aim of developing affectionate robots that make people smile”.
Bruno Maisonnier, the CEO of the company says, “For the past nine years, I’ve believed that the most important role of robots will be as kind and emotional companions to enhance our daily lives, to bring happiness, constantly surprise us, and make people grow….The emotional robot will create a new dimension in our lives and new ways of interacting with technology. It’s just the beginning, but already a promising reality.”
Lots of food for thought here.
According to Reuters, Softbank is “expanding into a sector seen key to addressing labour shortages in one of the world’s fastest ageing societies”. The company envisions Pepper being used as babysitters, medical workers or companions. Pepper goes on sale in February 2015.
Robot Counselling by 2030? I think they overestimated how long it would take robotics to reach that level.
I don’t know if I should be worried or excited for the future.
Dawn Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc. http://www.therapyonline.ca
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA