HAL THE ROBOT boy is convulsing. His head shakes back and forth so rapidly, it looks like he’s vibrating. His eyelids droop over his blue eyes and his mouth is ajar. He makes no sound, other than the faint whirs of his motors.
Hal was built to suffer. He is a medical training robot, the sort of invention that emerges when one of the most stressful jobs on Earth tumbles into the uncanny valley. No longer must nurses train on lifeless mannequins. Hal can shed tears, bleed, and urinate. If you shine a light in his eyes, his pupils shrink. You can wirelessly control him to go into anaphylactic shock or cardiac arrest. You can hook him up to real hospital machines, and even jolt him with a defibrillator. Hal—which is just now coming onto the market—is so realistic, and these scenarios so emotionally charged, that the instructors who run him in medical simulations have to be careful not to push things too far and upset trainees.