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Indian couple in US sued for calling autistic son ‘public nuisance’

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Washington: After alleging that their autistic son is a “public nuisance”, an Indian couple was arrested in California, according to a media report.

photo credit: www.autismepicenter.com
photo credit: www.autismepicenter.com

Vidyut Gopal and Parul Agrawal got slapped with a lawsuit filed by their two neighbours. They were ultimately forced to leave their home of seven years in Sunnyvale, one of the major cities that make up Silicon Valley, the San Jose Mercury News reported on Thursday.

Gopal who is an engineer at a Silicon Valley company said, “This has been pretty devastating for us, but we are doing our best to cope with it,”

The couple’s hired caregivers gave the boy special medication and put him in therapeutic classes after neighbours complained about the young boy pulling children’s hair, biting a woman and other menacing behaviour.

Last year, the couple was slapped with a lawsuit that alleges the boy’s disruptive behaviour created an “as-yet unquantified chilling effect on the otherwise ‘hot’ local real estate market” and that “people feel constrained in the marketability of their homes as this issue remains unresolved and the nuisance remains unabated”.

To the Indian-origin parents’ dismay, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge last October issued a preliminary injunction against them to ensure their son does not strike, assault, or batter anyone in the neighbourhood or their personal property.

Next week, a judge will hear arguments about whether the plaintiffs should have access to the boy’s school and medical records.

Agrawal, a research scientist at NASA Ames Research Centre, said they remain focused on helping their son. But they hope this case “will raise awareness about autism and educate the public” about the challenges that families of children with autism face.

Parents of children with autism fear that such lawsuits could be slapped against them as well.

“What scared us in the Bay Area is that there are thousands of kids just like this one,” Jill Escher, president of the board of the Autism Society of the San Francisco Bay Area, was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Gopal and Agrawal have decided not to return to their former home, which they have now rented to another family.

(with inputs from IANS)

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Why Robots That Are Made To Look Like Human Make Them Feel Uneasy

People who design machines to work with humans do keep the uncanny valley in mind as they think about the look of a robot.

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Why Robots That Look Too Human Make Some People Uneasy Pixabay

An increasing number of robots are being created and designed to work side by side with humans, in a human environment. That means robots have to be structured like a person, because some of them have to walk and sit like a person. Some robots are even being designed to look human.

But seeing an android, a robot that looks human, can make some people uneasy. That growing unsettling feeling or phenomenon as robots begin to look more like human beings is called the “uncanny valley.”

Even researchers who work on robots are not immune to it.

“I know how they work. I know they’re just machines, but something about something that looks like a person but doesn’t quite move like a person is disturbing,” said Jonathan Gratch, director for virtual human research at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Institute for Creative Technologies.

Gratch, who is a research professor of computer science and psychology, studies human-computer interaction.

He said there are many thoughts behind why the uncanny valley exists. One explanation is that it’s biological. People are hardwired to recognize when something seems wrong.

“In my research, I study emotion and how we use emotional cues to read each other’s minds, and I think a lot of the issue for me is if you try to make something very realistic, then you start trying to read all this information into what it’s portraying, and it is not the right information. So, it just communicates something is off. Something is wrong with this interaction,” Gratch said.

Another theory is that a robot that looks too human threatens what it means to be human.

robots
A robot head is covered by Hanson Robotics’ skin, in Hong Kong. VOA

“Initially, humans were seen as the only intelligent entity. And now, we know more and more that animals can do many of the things that we do, build tools. We know machines are starting to become intelligent. We hold on to the fact that we’re emotional, but now these machines are starting to be emotional as well, which is perhaps a threat. So, where does that lead people?” Gratch explained.

A person’s religious beliefs and culture may also play into how an android is perceived, he suggested.

“In the Western tradition, coming from Christianity, humans are unique, perhaps uniquely possessing a soul. Whereas in Japanese Shinto culture, souls live everywhere, in rocks and machines,” Gratch said.

John Rebula is a postdoctoral fellow at USC and is working on making a humanoid robot walk like a person by being more coordinated and balanced. Applications include the ability to walk up a flight of stairs and sit in a chair made for a person. He said the robot’s face is not necessary and is clearly cosmetic.

Technology, robot
The mock killer robot was displayed in London in April 2013 during the launching of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which calls for the ban of lethal robot weapons that would be able to select and attack targets without any human intervention. (VOA)

“We really do think of these as research machines that we’re ripping apart and putting back together, ripping apart and putting back together. And so, it’s very easy for us to leave off the cosmetic bits,” Rebula said.

His robot does have cartoon-like eyes, ears and a nose. It could be considered cute. However, if it looked more human, Rebula said he would not necessarily want to be in the lab with it all the time.

“We have lots of late nights in labs. You start yelling at the robot a little bit as it is — ‘Oh, why aren’t you working?’ I don’t necessarily, myself, need that extra layer of weird,” Rebula said.

Also Read: Video- India Scraps Law Criminalizing Homosexuality

People who design machines to work with humans do keep the uncanny valley in mind as they think about the look of a robot, and how widely it will be accepted by humans. (VOA)