Opinion Brief

The 'Last Moment Robot' that comforts patients dying alone

An artist designs a machine to help the lonely through their last moments — raising questions about the need for human intimacy in an increasingly technological world

The video: Artist and designer Dan Chen from the Rhode Island School of Design wants us to question the value of intimacy in a world increasingly dominated by technology. To that end, he's created a unique art installation — an end-of-life care machine tasked with comforting dying patients during their final moments. Chen invites people to lay in a hospital bed as the "Last Moment Robot" caresses the person's forearm with its padded, plastic, machine arm. (Watch a demonstration below.) It then reads the following script: "Hello [blank]. I am the Last Moment Robot. I am here to help you and guide you through your last moment on Earth. I am sorry that your family and friends can't be with you right now, but don't be afraid. I am here to comfort you." The project was inspired by Paro, a cuddly Japanese baby seal robot designed to comfort patients suffering from dementia. While the friendly Paro has proven an effective tool for therapy, Chen's invention is intentionally cold and machine-like. "The process of dying is probably the most vulnerable moment of human life," says Chen. This installation removes the "assurance of human connection" when we need it the most.

The reaction: Chen built the robot on the easy-to-program Arduino platform, says Leslie Katz at CNET. Such machines are usually calculated to charm us or make us laugh. Chen takes Arduino's capabilities to "the most extreme," and the results are "arguably chilling." Indeed, says Edwin Kee at Ubergizmo, the "jarring image" of the Last Moment Robot raises a heartbreaking question that many people at the end of their life may be forced to confront: Is a substitute, however inhuman, better than nothing? I don't know, says Aaron Souppouris at The Verge. Thankfully, there aren't any plans to develop the robot for commercial use. Take a look:

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