Let's take another leap into the future, friends? We are here for this, on the other hand. Of course, you don't need a DeLorean or a time machine. One need only take a journey across the UK healthcare landscape to meet a protagonist who is popping his head. His name is Robot caregiver: for friends "Care-bot".
Ingrid is a mother caring for her 22-year-old son, Tom, who was born with Down syndrome. Although Tom is a quiet, shy and polite person, he needs assistance in every aspect of his daily life. Ingrid and Tom's story is one of millions in the UK where 'family carers' make up about 9% of the population. In Italy we are talking about 9 million people: very important numbers.
Despite the challenges, Ingrid draws strength from her role: her role as a caregiver has provided her with valuable skills, which she has also found useful in her work as a teacher. There is no doubt, however, that she is also very tiring.
And this is where technology comes into play
Robotic caregivers could take on a vital role in caregiving. Today, the ranks of "Care-Bots" already include solutions such as ElliQ, a "social" robot powered by artificial intelligence, who can help remind Tom of his daily needs.
Other "care bots" like Pepper, a semi-humanoid robot who I told here, have had a hard time finding acceptance, eventually ending production in 2021. Overall, though, there is growing enthusiasm for the technology's game-changing potential in assistive care.
And what about steal, another Japanese creation? He looks like you'd expect from a robot bear: big round eyes and stocky body. And it doesn't just provide psychological support: it is able to lift people from the bed to the wheelchair.
It could be of great help to carers, more than half of whom also report having health problems, or even a disability, and therefore find the physical tasks of caring difficult.
Caregiver, inevitable doubts
Beyond opportunities, as often happens with new technologies, ethical and social concerns hang over robot caregivers. The main? You know her. That dependence on machines can lead to the loss of important human capabilities.
Are we at risk of atrophying our empathy?
Prof Shannon Vallor, philosopher of technology and chair of data ethics and AI in Edinburgh, argues that assistance is a crucial avenue through which we realize our humanity and that relegating this responsibility to machines could come at an unexpected cost.
Robot caregiver: moral dilemmas and glasses (half full)
Through it all, Ingrid finds meaning and fulfillment in caring for her son Tom. You would never delegate these tasks to a robot, even if they cost you effort.
To her, as to so many, assisting brings with it a sense of accomplishment that we shouldn't be too quick to relegate to technology. I'm not saying it: many studies say it (including this one).
Yet, Ingrid herself admits a truth: faced with the prospect of becoming old, and not being able to assist her son like today, she would think about it. If the perspective is to see Tom in a protected facility, her choice would be to continue taking care of him, perhaps even with the help of a robot caregiver.
After all, that's what robots are supposed to be for, right? To help us, not replace us.