Interesting piece from The Atlantic on the future of robots as caregivers to the elderly.
Modern medicine and increasing longevity have conspired to boost the need for social care, whether in the home or in institutions. “There’s a pressing requirement for robots in the social care of the elderly, partly because we have fewer people of working age,” says Tony Belpaeme, a professor in intelligent and autonomous control systems at Plymouth University. Traditionally among the poorest paid of the workforce, carers are an ever more scarce resource. Policy makers have begun to cast their eyes towards robots as a possible source of compliant and cheaper help.
The robots already in production, Belpaeme tells me, are principally geared to monitoring the elderly and infirm, or providing companionship while, as yet, performing only the most straightforward of physical tasks. Wait … companionship? “Yes,” says Belpaeme, deadpan, “Of course it would be better to have companionship from people … ” He points out that for all sorts of reasons this can’t always be achieved. “Studies have shown that people don’t mind having robots in the house to talk to. Ask the elderly subjects who take part in these studies if they’d like to have the robot left in the house for a bit longer, and the answer is nearly always yes.”