In conversation about the usefulness of robots

Will robots take all work away from people in the future? Can they really replace humans? How can robots help? What is ethically acceptable? The CITEC researcher Professor Helge Ritter has been discussing such questions with visitors at an event called “Wissenschaft trifft… Sie!” (Science meets… you!). The Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia invited the general public to exchange views in an informal atmostphere on the question of whether robots are a ‘curse or a blessing’ (“Robotor – Fluch oder Segen?). Members of the public met Minister for Science, Svenja Schulze, Professor Ritter and three other scientists.

Professor Ritter is the coordinator of the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC). The neuroinformatics professor conducts research in the area of cognitive robotics. As part of this research, he investigates to what extent robots can be used as assistant systems in healthcare. At the event, which took place at Schlösser Quartier Boheme in Dusseldorf, he made it clear that robots can only serve people as assistants if they are capable of empathising in a similar way to humans. ‘Only then can robots give us the help we require’, says Ritter. ‘There are already projects in which robots have helped autistic children in making contact with their environment by supporting them in acquiring certain patterns of behaviour. In the future, robots with more developed functions of assistance could help us to be more independent, even at an advanced age or contribute to care tasks.’

Other invited guests included Professor Dr Klaus Schilling, head of the only research centre in Germany for robot-law at the University of Würzburg, Professor Dr Nicole Krämer, social psychologist at University of Duisburg-Essen as well as Professor Dr Roger Häußling, sociologist of technology at RWTH Aachen University.