The Future of Robot Caregivers

I came across this opinion piece on The New York Times, you can read the original article here. I think that Louise Aronson brings up a really good point when there are discussions of the ethics of using robots as caregivers, and the effect on future generations:

As Jerald Winakur, a San Antonio internist and geriatrician, put it, “Just because we digitally savvy parents toss an iPad at our kids to keep them busy and out of our hair, is this the example we want to set when we, ourselves, need care and kindness?”

It’s a point I hadn’t thought of before, and I think she brings up an even better point as she is weighing the effect of not pursuing the use of robots as caregivers:

In an ideal world, it would be: Each of us would have at least one kind and fully capable human caregiver to meet our physical and emotional needs as we age. But most of us do not live in an ideal world, and a reliable robot may be better than an unreliable or abusive person, or than no one at all.

In 2012, I attended the International Society for Gerontechnology (ISG) annual conference in Eindhoven, Netherlands. There, I got to hear from some of the “greats” in the young field of gerontechnology (technologies for the benefit of aging and older adults). I was a bit star-struck and very inspired. I also met two leaders in the field whom I later requested to be on my PhD assessment committee. While there, I got to hear about Mobiserv and meet some of the researchers working on the project. It was particularly exciting for me, as it was the first time I had seen an assistive robot in person.

I recently included GiraffPlus when the Center for Welfare Technology and Research Center for Dementia in Aalborg, Denmark asked for recommendations of new, useful technologies they could offer to citizens. Check out this video on GiraffPlus for more info.

It was while I was researching updated technologies for them to offer, that I came across Jibo, which I am personally pretty excited to see how it catches on and is used and perceived. I have seriously considered ordering one.

I also got to interact with a Paro robot (the seal we have been hearing about but few have used because it is really, really expensive.) and two Pleo robotic dinosaurs (better information on them, here). I had made some review videos, but it turns out I’m not my own greatest camera person 😛 Perhaps I will add them one day…. I really like the Paro seal and could see immediate benefit in myself even when just looking at it. I also noticed when a group of Occupational Therapists were touring the place, that they all clucked, awww’ed, and smiled when they saw Paro as well. Pleo, on the other hand, I just wasn’t very impressed with. Mostly, I didn’t like the hard body and the plastic material kept catching on my hair and clothes because the dang dinosaurs keep moving their long necks around. However, the technology behind them is pretty cool.

While I don’t personally do much work with robotics, I like them, I can see the benefit in having them to absorb the increasing demands for caregiving, and I hope to do a bit more work on robotics in dementia care in the future. If you are interested in reading a bit more on future directions in dementia care, you can check out my article,  “The Future of Assistive Technologies for Dementia,” from the ISG 2012 conference, where it won Best Paper Award.

One issue that I feel Louise raises, is in her first paragraph. The human touch, the healing power of laying hands, the psychological and sociological benefits of talking to another listening and caring person. While I agree that having a robot companion or a robotic assistant caregiver is better than having a neglectful, abusive, or absent human caregiver, I think that her opening paragraph about listening to this woman’s life stories and compassion – can’t be supported by the robots she later mentions. Regardless, I think it’s a great article, hope you do, too.

On to the future!……

The Future of Robot Caregivers

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One thought on “The Future of Robot Caregivers

  1. Pingback: Planning and design for an ageing population: Coursework for Re-thinking aging | Doctor Dementia and the Dementia Adventure

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