Robot-assisted ‘smart homes’ and AI: the boundary between supportive and intrusive?

[grow_thumb image=”” thumb_width=”200″ /]Something that has been bothersome to Deep Thinkers (and Not Such Deep Thinkers like this Editor) is the almost-forced loss of control inherent in discussion of AI-powered technology. There is a elitist Wagging of Fingers that generally accompanies the Inevitable Questions and Qualms.

  • If you don’t think 100 percent self-driving cars are an Unalloyed Wonder, like Elon Musk and Google tells you, you’re a Luddite
  • If you have concerns about nanny tech or smart homes which can spy on you, you’re paranoid
  • If you are concerned that robots will take the ‘social’ out of ‘social care’, likely replace human carers for people, or lose your neighbor their job, you are not with the program

I have likely led with the reason why: loss of control. Control does not motivate just Control Freaks. Think about the decisions you like versus the ones you don’t. Think about how helpless you felt as a child or teenager when big decisions were made without any of your input. It goes that deep.

In the smart home, robotic/AI world then, who has the control? Someone unknown, faceless, well meaning but with their own rationale? (Yes, those metrics–quality, cost, savings) Recall ‘Uninvited Guests’, the video which demonstrated that Dad Ain’t Gonna Take Nannying and is good at sabotage.

Let’s stop and consider: what are we doing? Where are we going? What fills the need for assistance and care, yet retains that person’s human autonomy and that old term…dignity? Maybe they might even like it? For your consideration:

How a robot could be grandma’s new carer (plastic dogs to the contrary in The Guardian)

AI Is Not out to Get Us (Scientific American)

Hat tip on both to reader Malcolm Fisk, Senior Research Fellow (CCSR) at De Montfort University via LinkedIn

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  1. Dear Editor

    Yes … control is definitely one of the issues. Some technologists, keen to demonstrate the effectiveness of their creations (including anthropomorphic robots … to help what they may perceive as frail, acquiescent ‘old dears’) equally demonstrate a readiness to foster dependency and disempowerment. What’s missing is …

    a) a lack of an appreciation that assistive technologies can do just that … assist (and support independent living). Think of the car, the computer, the sewing machine and the spectacles resting on your nose or the contact lenses in your eyes (as you read this). Acceptable, non-stigmatising and useful to all people.

    b) a recognition of the fact that by far the majority of older people are, to all intents and purposes, independent – and can be helped in maintaining such independence by assistive technologies. Their aspirations (albeit adjusted on account of e.g. mobility problems or sensory impairments) are very little different from those of a 26 or 46 year old. Why should they be different? Older people are, er, people.

    c) a realisation of the fact that anthropomorhism (does this cover animals, too?) is redundant unless the victims of such animaloid or humanoid intrusiveness are children. What next … the anthropomorphic telephone?

    And surveillance! Yes, indeed. it has its place as a means of protection against different risks – but in a context where informed consent (itself a form of empowerment) is afforded to even the frailest. Of relevance is that I recently argued (in an article in Nursing Times) about the benefits of surveillance as a means of guarding against elder abuse – but only through the use of ‘blind’ cameras, gathering data that could only be assembled into images in special circumstances. But surveillance by robot? What on earth for?

    Finally … just in case you thought otherwise, I’m a supporter of robotics. I’m a strong supporter of assistive technologies. And I guess if I put my mind to it, I’d be a supporter of AI – in the right place.