Robots in older adult care: a debate

click to enlargeAn article in The New York Times ‘Bits’ tech blog has raised debate on the appropriate role of robots in care for older adults. Illustrated by a picture of two PARO robots being recharged (a strange sight indeed) and a lead about the movie ‘Robot & Frank’ [TTA 23 Aug 12], it discusses the ethics of robots (and robotic pets) in care for the elderly versus humans which continues in the comments. One position is that it is not ethical to entrust your aging loved one’s care to a machine, and that human care is always preferable even if not high quality, because we all need human interaction. The other is that the same loved one might very well prefer having a robot efficiently assist them versus a human helper who talks down to them, doesn’t listen, is incompetent, unable or dishonest. The older person may very well interact with a robot better and demonstrate more directive control. A middle position is that robots for assistive care and robotic pets are quite acceptable as an adjunct to human support. After all, we do tend to anthropomorphize objects, not only cars (ask this Editor about Big Blue, Homer, The Bug and the Cherry Bomb) but also in studies robotic pets such as Sony’s now defunct AIBO. It is also the theory behind the virtual pet-in-a-tablet GeriJoy. And who hasn’t ‘talked’ to their balky PC or printer? Certainly Frank demonstrated ‘greater independence’ when he enlisted his pal Robot in a little heist!  Disruptions: Helper Robots Are Steered, Tentatively, to Care for the Aging

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