Wednesday 25 February 2009

Care for a robot, anyone?

As I have mentioned many times in this blog, the demographic forecasts of the future tell us that we won't have enough people to look after all the people who need looking after in the decades to come.  This suggests that more machine support will be employed, and I suspect specifically robotic machines.  Clearly there are potential advantages for health professionals including addressing the increasing risk that they injure themselves when physically moving heavy patients, as obesity levels rise.  But would you ever relate to a robot as you would to a human nurse for example?  How much supervision of robots looking after people would be needed?  What is the potential cost of malfunction?  If your human nurse gets a bug, it may spread a disease (possibly life threatening) around a ward.  If your robot nurse has a bug it may kill you too.  

Robots I have met, are increasingly able to empathise with the humans around them.  They can detect emotional states of people and be programmed to act accordingly.  Some of the tactile movements now possible with robots can make them a very sensitive and gentle assistant compared to the images most people carry of large industrial automobile welding robots.  What type of robot would be best in a caring application?  Would you prefer a machine that looks like a human or that doesn't caring for you?   And it's not just about healthcare, maybe you would be comfortable with a robot that looks after your children when you are not around?  It would have a better idea of what they are doing on the Internet than you, and would be able to answer any questions they have from an educational viewpoint.   As the technology becomes available in future, we will all need to make more decisions about what we can accept.  

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