Robotic carers? What next? #carersweek

“Robots to look after elderly in care homes…”

That was the only bit of the headline that I saw as I dived out of the shop this morning on my way to work. As a carer. Granted, the implication was that this was a futuristic premise… a possibility yet to manifest… but even so, I was, I admit, entirely and immediately judgemental… and that was before I had time to come home and do a bit of research.

Once I had, I was fuming.

To be fair to those who think this is a wonderful idea, they do not, as yet, intend to replace actual carers with robotic artificial intelligence, though I get the feeling that is only because the technology is, as yet, insufficiently advanced or affordable. One of these robots costs more than I, and many carers, will earn in a year. But it is not some forward-looking pipe dream…these things are already in service.

Southend on Sea introduced a robot to run reminiscence groups for dementia patients. They are, apparently, ‘convinced that digital technology is where the future lies for social care’ and plan to introduce the robot carer into care homes and sheltered accommodation, with the primary aim of providing companionship…instead of an actual person taking time during their working day to do so. Obviously, this means that existing staff will have more time to do all the things the robot cannot… and fewer extra staff will need to be hired to cover the shortfall. Economically, at least, it makes perfect sense.

The robots can do very little to help ease the workload of carers. They can, however, learn a person’s likes and dislikes and tailor conversations based upon stored and digitally interpreted memories. They can also use their screens to display their ‘feelings’, according to one article, and can recognise and respond to a person’s changing moods, offering ‘culturally appropriate care support’.

One of Southend’s coucillors is reported as saying the she has ‘met Pepper’, their robot, and ‘he is cute, kind, engaging…’. Now, correct me if I am out of line here, but either AI has come an awful long way overnight, or there is something very odd about that statement. You do not ‘meet’ a machine, nor does it have a gender. It may be cute, it may even be engaging… but it cannot possibly be kind. That is an essentially human quality.

AI can be programmed to replicate human emotions and display them accordingly… it cannot feel emotions, it has no feelings. And that is my sticking point.

I love the advances we have made in technology. I do think there will be more and more robotic assistance in healthcare… and that it may even, when perfected, be subject to less error than human beings in the delivery of medication, medical observation and even things as complex as microsurgery. What it cannot ever do, though, is replace the warmth of a real, human presence.

I have been very ill in the past. I have watched my son fight his way out of a coma. In both cases, my abiding memory is of the human presence… the hand that held mine when the world was a whirling mass of pain and confusion, the hands that held fast to my son and drew him back to himself with love. Voices that reach through the fog with real kindness and compassion and eyes that meet your own with empathy, lending you their strength until you find your own.

I do not think that cold metal and plastic will ever be able to replace that. And I have to wonder how many lonely people in these care homes will simply give up. Their medical needs may be met by the staff, but if their needs as human beings, for a contact that goes smile to smile, heart to heart and soul to soul is foisted upon an unfeeling robot, will life really be worth living?

Economically, perhaps that makes sense too. But not the kind of sense I would want for my loved ones, myself or any other human soul.

There is healing in the touch of a human hand, a light that passes eye to eye, a glow that comes from shared memories and experiences that no robot will ever know. What can it share in those quiet moments when the heart opens but pre-programmed platitudes? No matter how many databases it may access, it cannot remember what it felt like to be a child or to bring one to birth, nor the exhilaration of achievement, the smell of new-mown grass, or watching Andy Pandy and the Woodentops on the old black and white TV. It does not know what it feels like to be in love or to lose a loved one. And no matter how ‘cuturally appropriate’ its responses may be, it knows nothing of regret, of faith, of fear or of hope.

There is undoubtedly a place for artificial intelligence. But never as a substitute for another human being whose heart, hand and smile can reach out and touch yours.

Do we, as a society, really value the elderly, the infirm and the lonely so little that we no longer have the desire or the time to care? Is this really what we want for our loved ones? And have those who think this a good idea really thought it through… for it will not be long before we, and they, are the elderly and the ones in need of care.

There was a time, not so long ago, when our elders were accorded respect for their contribution to the life of the family and the greater community; they taught the young, shared their own life-lessons and experience, passed down the accumulated wisdom of decades and shared the knowledge and stories gleaned from their own elders. Now they can share all that with robots.

We may as well be throwing them on the scrap heap…

I ask again, what next?

Euthanasia?

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com
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85 Responses to Robotic carers? What next? #carersweek

  1. rivrvlogr says:

    You’ve made some excellent points here, Sue. I can only imagine that proponents see this as viable because of the continued momentum towards online “interactive” activity, but I cannot see how it could be truly effective without the compassion and empathy to which you alluded.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I believe there will come a day when robots are so much like us it will be hard to tell who is human and who is not.

    We aren’t there yet and I doubt we will BE there in our life time or even in another lifetime. I could be wrong, but I think that we haven’t even learned to “feel” for ourselves, much less become equipped to teach robots to be “human.” We have a long, long road to travel before we are even decent people.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. barbtaub says:

    This concept is just backwards. If the robot could sweep, swab, and sauté—and thus provide the human carer with more time to do the things only a human can do: chat, interact, love, and actually CARE—then everyone (or at least those with actual emotions and not just programming) would be a winner.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. stevetanham says:

    Reblogged this on Sun in Gemini and commented:
    From Sue, who cares…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jenanita01 says:

    Train robots to do all the menial tasks, but never even think of using them to care for old, sick or confused people. Robots cannot care, and wishing won’t make them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    A “Hello Dave” moment? (2001 – A Space Odyssey) – We all know THAT didn’t turn out so well…
    I’d much prefer the darn things did all the menial, routine stuff (cleaning, cooking, etc) and freed up the humans to interact caringly with each other.
    Let Sue know your opinion, in the comments under her original blog post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A fascinating read. And you make your point so well, Sue. It’s scary to think where we’ll be in another few decades x

    Like

  8. quiall says:

    I have Carers in my home every day. They smile, we banter and the necessary jobs are done with compassion. No metal and plastic gear box with algorithms can replace that! I hope I’m not here to see it happen.

    Like

  9. Thank you for this, Sue! I always ask myself why we not earlier implemented modern devices. Tablets with internet connection could be also helpful for regularely communication purposes of elder people, and it also could be a great “workout” for the brain. Here in Germany actually there is a very sad discussion about the usage of the internet for virtual office hours with the doctor. I really cannot understand, why they have such great problems using the devices instead of solely robotic. Michael

    Like

  10. The Owl Lady says:

    I can’t see how a non-living thing can offer comfort. I agree, Sue, nothing can replace the feel of a human hand or the soft words from another person.
    With all the problems they’re having with self-driving cars I can just imagine the problems these carebots will have when they come to being. @v@ <e

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      That’s another issue that concerns me… with the technology as yet so rudimentary, it seems a little early to test it on vulnerable and fragile hearts and minds.

      Like

  11. Jennie says:

    I’m in your corner!

    Like

  12. bobcabkings says:

    Reblogged this on cabbagesandkings524 and commented:
    Sue Vincent has qualms about robot care givers. Maybe, “robot service providers” would be a better wording. Can a robot learn to actually care, or will they always be just pretending to care?

    Like

  13. willowdot21 says:

    I agree Sue this is not progress. Nothing can substitute for human kindness. Human Kindness is the rarest of commodities.💜💜

    Like

  14. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were suggesting it be done the other way, as in using the robots to do the medical stuff, leaving the human staff available to give the comfort and human contact the patients require and deserve.

    Like

  15. fransiweinstein says:

    I totally agree, although I wouldn’t limit it to the care of elders. I am all for AI, am fascinated with what it can do — but the last thing I want is to cuddle up to a cold piece of metal.

    Like

  16. Anne Copeland says:

    As a senior myself, I am so reminded of the book, 1984 by George Orwell. When we put our elders in the care of robots, we have sunken just about as far as we can go. I can remember when the knowledge of the elders was revered and we were in much demand not only in work, but in many different situations. Societies then had more stability and a deeper sense of the value of human beings.

    Our society (and I live in the U.S.) has already pretty much thrown us out because we have too much life experience and knowledge, and are no longer willing to be manipulated or used by others. They have to pay us more than they do some young person just out of school who can be made to do the work of three people for the salary of one. Whenever I was laid off from a major job, there were always younger co-workers who had nowhere near the expertise I had, nor the certifications I had earned.

    The downfall of societies seems to be connected with this change in values of how the governing forces treat the people. Today in our country, both young children and seniors are being valued differently than ever. While seniors are being cast out in various ways, very young children are being pushed to learn higher math much faster and at a much younger age than even 10 years ago. At the same time, they are no longer being taught cursive writing, and literature that we treasured in my youth.

    Nothing in this world will ever replace the comfort, the wisdom, and the ability to pass down to us that seniors bring to this world. To even envision them being cared for by anything other than other human beings is a horrific scene straight out of a book like 1984. As Sue noted, it is one thing to envision surgery being assisted or done with robotics, but caring is a human trait, not one of robots.

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Things are pretty muh the same here, sadly, and I believe we are losing one of our most valuable resources in terms of life-knowledge and experience by pushing older folk to one side. But condemning anyone, of any age, to the care of inhuman machines beggars belief.

      Like

  17. dgkaye says:

    I’m with you Sue, AI, robots or technology cannot replace human warmth and compassion. When will the madness end! 🙂 xx

    Like

  18. acflory says:

    ‘Do we, as a society, really value the elderly, the infirm and the lonely so little that we no longer have the desire or the time to care?’
    Sadly, I think we’re already doing that by locking them up, out of sight in nursing homes and the like. 😦
    About ten years ago I was trying to run a small business teaching computer skills to the elderly. I went to visit a large nursing home to talk to the staff there. As I waited for my appointment I saw at least eight elderly people sitting in armchairs in a large room that may have been some kind of shared community area. They sat there, huddled in on themselves, looking at nothing, saying nothing, doing nothing. Just sitting there.

    I didn’t get to teach at that facility and I was more glad than I can say. Perhaps those residents were so far gone in dementia or something that they were incapable of interacting with anyone but…it was horrible. Perhaps even a machine is better than nothing at all. 😦

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Sadly, a nursing home may be the best or only option, especially in our society. The old extended family has faded for many and the demands of work mean that care at home is simply not possible. Lifespans are being prolonged by modern medicine too, without necessarily being able to tackle the problems of ill-health or ageing.

      I was told my son would have to be placed in a care home… and that was never going to happen. He was 25 at the time and the brain injury so severe that there seemed little hope of recovery. He came home, we worked together to get his body, mind and speech back online, and nine years later, he lives alone with a little daily help from me. Without that constant human input, the laughter, the listening, and the empathy…as well as thinking outside the box…I doubt that would be the case. He would have given in to despair and given up.

      One of the facilities he was in as he came round from the coma was like a morgue… and with no personal items allowed to make it human. I found it horrific. While he was there I had a daily battle with nursing staff who kept putting away all the personal items that were there to remind him of who he was.

      I agree that AI may have a part to play in care… but never to replace the human touch.

      Like

  19. Euthanasia is already on the table in certain countries. I read an article the other week of a euthanasia machine soon to be out that is made from a 3d printer and can be used anywhere they want to end their life.

    As with robotics the world lost it’s way with technology a long time ago. Did you know machinery and computers were brought into the workforce to cut down the amount of labour and hours humans would need to work. We have seen how that worked, it increased our workload and hours.

    It could be my generation or just the way some us were raised, but we seem to have to work longer than my grandparents/parents had to, just to scratch the surface of the debts we are in. by the time we are semi-retired or retired we wouldn’t want to be stuck being a full-time carer, hopefully we have enough to travel and enjoy what is left of life. So maybe the robots could be a good thing.

    But until they become mainstream I think we will all be okay for the time being 😀
    good post 🙂

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Being given the choice to end one’s own life if pain and illness are too much must, I think be up to the individual. My concern is that we value life too little and risk creating a society where only the economically useful will have a place.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Pretty scary times ahead I believe. Over the weekend I was told of a mate who passed away on friday night. He was full of life and wasnt in anyway wanting it to end. I thrn go online and see someone stating they want to end their life whether it was serious or not I hate how we have become a society where suicide is now considered a normal occurrence. When it comes to life ending diseases understandably if they wish to die while they have control let them. But in all thoroughly enjoyed the read and will look over more soon 😀

        Like

  20. besonian says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Sue. Using robots for this sort of thing and anything like it is, to me, a sign of a desperately incomprehensible lack of fundamental understanding and perception about what it is to be human. It is, I believe, a sign – and there are many others now – of a society not far from imploding.

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      We live in a decadent society, by all definitions, unfortunately. I have absolute faith in the humanity of individuals, and in our power to act together for the common values universally held by mankind… but whether we will choose to use that power before we implode is another matter altogether.

      Like

  21. I agree with you completely, Sue. I have sat in hospitals more than 20 times with Gregory and about the same number of times with Michael. There is no way that a robot could replace a Mother or other caring person’s presence in a time of great personal need. I think you are right, some people will just give up on life. I also ask though, where is the family?

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Not everyone has family… and these days, many are spread far and wide. One study suggests that sixty percent of people in care homes get no visitors and another that 75% of elderly people in the UK suffer from loneliness. Which is, in itself, an appalling figure. AI may be better than nothing in such cases, but it is more inthe nature of keeping people stimulated than easing loneliness, I would think.

      Like

  22. I was alternately sad and incredulous reading about these robots. You are absolutely correct.
    We give them cute names, but they will never be human or feel compassion. Just awful!

    Like

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