Designer, artist and engineer Dan Chen has developed the 'End of Life Care Machine', a machine designed to guide and comfort dying patients with a carefully scripted message. Chen, just graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, built the machine as one of a series of functional robots capable of reenacting human social behaviors.

The patient enters the specially designed room and lays on the bed. The doctor asks for permission to put the patient's arm underneath the caressing mechanism.

"The device is activated, and an LED screen reads “Detecting end of life.” At this point, the doctor exits the room, leaving the patient alone by him or herself. Within moments the LED reads “End of life detected”, the robotic arm begins its caressing action, moving back and forth, stimulating the sense of comfort during the dying process."

The machine then plays the scripted message:

Hello Susie, 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 (pause) your family and friends can't be with you right now, but don't be afraid. I am here to comfort you. (pause)

You are not alone, you are with me. (pause)

Your family and friends love you very much, they will remember you after you are  gone.  (pause)

Time of death 11:56

Chen explains this machine is inspired by Paro, a robotic baby seal, which is used for therapeutic purposes. Paro reduces social isolation and uplifts Alzheimer patients by his lifelike behavior. However, Chen questions the form-factor and the quality of intimacy which Paro gives. He therefore questions the deception through technology by replacing humanity with robotics through his 'Robotic Intimacy Device' (RIT).

The point is interesting: Replacing humans with machines at the final and very emotional stage of life. Chen dares to question if robots are able to replace that human intimacy. For the purpose of debate, I highly reject his proposition.

Chen implies that his robot is intimate by the name he has given it, and that his design could replace human contact (otherwise he would not have entered the discussion if robots could do this). He also implies that his proposition is better than that of Paro's designers. The quality of Paro lies in its lifelike qualities. People can engage, and most importantly, identify with this social robot. This creates an empathic and emotional bond, as Sherry Turkle explains in her book Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. However, Dan Chen's device is a mechanical substitute for touch and speech, far from Paro's the empathic and intimate qualities.

In my view the machine looses its intimacy directly after the doctor asks for permission. Intimacy is special, subtle and foremost experienced. Have you ever had someone you've just met ask you if you want to get married? Intimacy happens when there is an interaction between two parties (product, people, animals, etc). Not when a machine performs a trick, but when a machine reacts to what you are experiencing. This creates a bond. Just like Paro.

Furthermore, intimacy lies in the realm of the abstract. Technology is often abstract in that it acts as a medium to generate intimacy between persons. In this case there is only a machine and a person. The machine talks and moves, nothing more. If the machine had a personality, a certain way of interacting or some sort of representation of a loved one it could generate the experience of intimacy.

Instead, Chen creates a cold mechanical scenario without actually implementing any intimacy or empathy. It lacks depth, theory and realism. Therefore the discussion of robots replacing humans in a intimate situation is not as valid as he depicts it.

Chen has begun an important discussion. But is it the right one?

Via Dan Chen

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  • I also had to see if this was real. OMG! how offensive! I would go to my grave throwing it at the mother fucker that brought it to me. In this age of the 'woke' idiots in some other reality, this thing makes sense for them, to be used soon I hope :-)

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  • This machine would have been good for COVID patients who were dying alone in hospitals..

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  • There are not enough bad things that can be said about this. Anyone who would even consider this for their "loved one" needs to have their ass kicked. Hopefully this will be the only comfort the inventor has around when he is dying. What is he going to come up with next? Selling a gun as "The early checkout self care kit"?

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  • If one of these ends up at my bedside, the gifted better be in a good hiding spot or there will be someone else facing their end if life, just saying.

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  • Thank you for sharing Gerardine. Your story makes people think differently.

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  • I have been sitting with my own mother as she was dying. I could not stay with her round the clock. Even the hospice nurses were unable to be with her continually. This machine could help fill in the gaps by playing music and monitoring vital signs during the time the humans had to leave the room. As for the comments that this is a cruel – I saw people lying alone, dying- alone.. Family members couldn’t or wouldn’t spend the time with their dying relatives. It is very hard to watch the end come on. I was there and still there were times my mother was alone. This machine could play music and read to the bedridden. My mother loved to hear music – she reacted and loved the happy sounds. Therefore, I don’t think this is a bad robot idea. It is wonderful!!! People think about it , having robot to watch over you when no one else can is fantastic .It can be weeks or months that a person is bedridden.

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  • Are you fucking kidding me! Where is the compassion and humility! I think chen is a asshole!

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  • MW

    I think Mr Chen is a ballsy guy. He could have some success if marketed this device as a dog petting machine or something along those lines. Any, funny joke. It's crazy how far they have taken it.

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  • This reminds me of the play "The Sandbox". Could the End of Life Care Machine evolve into a holodeck with a sandy beach and an angel of death in it?

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  • This is absolutely THE most inhumane contraption I ever seen in my life!!! I saw this on TruTV on Dumbest Inventions and thought surely it was a joke. Even as a joke it would be disgusting, but to find out that this thing really exists in unfathomable!! What sick, twisted and heartless family member would actually allow their loved one to leave this world with a freaking robot rather than theirselves??? Having just lost my mother a few months ago, this is a very sore subject for me. She was under Hospice Care and although they did an outstanding job, I felt guilty even leaving her side with them there. But a damn robot?? There is a special place in hell for people that would even consider using this device much less designing and selling it. SICK, SICK, SICK!!!!

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  • m

    ok i seen this on trutv. thought it was a joke and had to find out if it was real this makes me sick to think a person could be so cruel to a loved one that they would use a machine to take their place.guess its true it takes all kinds of ppl. to make this world go round

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  • Have you completely taking leave of your senses?????? As a hospice physician this is offensive even as a joke!

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