Heal us, o metal ones

Research on such machines is in its earliest stages. “There are a handful of researchers working on socially assistive robotics versus thousands working on robot navigation, particularly for military applications,” Mataric says.

Still, whether they’re chunky vacuum cleaners or upright machines that can, after a fashion, walk, talk and respond, robotic creations seem to fascinate their human companions, and that, increasingly, is helping them ambulate toward new roles as medical caregivers. “Robots will never replace human interaction, but they can augment it,” says Martha E. Pollack, dean and professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information.