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May 1st, 2002 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Sure, everyone is talking about remote controlled rats, but the real news is a lot more interesting:

Here Come the tempbots

By Dr David Whitehousen

News Online science editor



Guided people controlled through implants in their brains could one day be used to do tedious filing or other dreadfully dull office work, scientists say.

An extraordinary experiment has seen researchers steering five volunteer temporary office workers – so-called tempbots – through their daily tasks, by remote control.

Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists say the tempbots were more productive and required less pay than regular office temporary employees.

The research team is led by Dr Sanjiv Blohar, of the State University of New York, US.

Commands and rewards

Electrodes were implanted into areas of the temps’ brains responsible for sensing reward, as well as those that process some auditory signals from the ear. The commands and rewards were transmitted by radio from a laptop computer to a beltpack receiver worn by each temp. In addition, a small video camera was worn on a headband, so that the scientists could monitor the actions of the worker.

The scientists were able to make the temps file, type memos, answer phone calls, and attend meetings. The researchers were able to send these commands from distances of up to 500 metres (1640 feet).

The tempbots negotiated an cubicle maze which involved climbing over file boxes, ignoring coworkers having an idle chat, making a fresh pot of coffee after drinking the last cup, laughing at the boss’ lame jokes and neglecting to surf the Internet.

Better than machines

The scientists said: “Our temps were easily guided through both difficult and tedious tasks, and could be instructed to do work most other temps would shirk from.

“We were also able to guide temps in systematically completing complicated or mind-numbing work, and to direct them through tasks that they would normally avoid, such as phone support, or writing boring technical documentation.”

A “write report” command could be spoken into the computer, and then transmitted and interpreted by the temps’ brains as words spoken to them. If the temps correctly followed the cue and wrote the report, their reward-centres were stimulated, filling the workers with a feeling of well-being.

Dr Blohar said: “Man wasn’t really meant to work in an office environment. Given a choice, he’d much rather goof off. You never see our closest genetic kin, the chimpanzee, forming a corporation, or going to work in an office. There’s millions of years of evolution to overcome.

Ethical problems

“It is a hard problem simply trying to make a robot do office work. It’s an even a harder problem trying to motivate human beings to do office work. With this technology, we’ve found that after awhile, you don’t even need to pay the temps. They don’t even want to go home. Some of them even cry when we take off the control unit.”

Dr Blohar acknowledged there might be ethical objections to such ideas, even if they could save money and improve productivity.

“Our temps are completely happy and treated well and in no sense was there any cruelty involved,” he said.

“Nonetheless, the idea is sort of creepy. I do not know what the answer is to that.”

I know what my answer to it is: Where do I get me one of these things? I don’t know what I’d like more, wearing it, or putting it on >Conny. The mind boggles.

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