Robo-Care: Is the future here yet?

I’ve written about accepting technology before and not being opposed to the changes of the future. We live in a world where manufacturing jobs are being reduced due to automation. Computerised workers saves time and reduces errors. This can have significant impact on communities as entire towns are based around certain factories. Some argue it doesn’t reduce the amount of jobs for people but just changes those jobs. Economics plays a factor and if a company can produce more, faster and better with robotic workers then they are likely to.

As my career has been in Social Care I obviously believe in the power of people helping people and that to offer true understanding and empathy you need people, surely a computerised brain cannot replace that? However, there has been some recent experiments with people with Autism and using Artificial Intelligence to help them communicate as many people with Autism struggle with other people and find the communication from a computer much easier to manage. This is unlikely to replace the need for the many incredible people who work in social care as it really only serves one function for one group, albeit a very valuable one.

For the last few years there has been some research undertaken with EU funding several universities and other organisations to develop robotics for working in care homes for the elderly, you can read more about it here

The aim is to help out support and care staff who don’t have time to sit and chat, or to ensure that medication is accurately administered.

On the second point, I agree. In a former job I saw many medication errors, most of which weren’t life threatening but that doesn’t matter, it could be. Some people just never seemed to offer the attention to detail or concentration to ensure they do it correctly. I’ve administered a great deal of meds myself and know that at the end of a long busy shift you can easily make blunders, but I would set up systems to ensure those mistakes couldn’t be missed.

The question in regards to that is what if the robot makes a mistake? Who then is responsible? The company who made it? Unfortunately managing safeguarding cases is a common occurrence in my life, and you need to find out why things go wrong, what am I do with a robot? There was the recent fatality with a driverless car offering up this very quandary.

The former point about company I find harder to fathom. AI isn’t yet at the point where it can converse on anything, so the conversation a computerised life would offer has to have limitations and of course you cannot teach a computer empathy. It may be able to fake it to a point but really reading what is behind someone’s eyes, reading between the lines are complexities that many people struggle with let alone a machine free of emotion.

If I thought my job and others with the world of social care could be replaced by machines I’d be starting to find a new career. Maybe one day computers will be capable of learning empathy but I doubt that. There is also the basic biological need for human contact which is a fundamental element in happiness and wellbeing, there are actually physical benefits to your health by being in contact with others.

The current plight of social care in many places is that of underfunding, and the answer appears to be to automate part of the job, then what, all of it? Maybe we can replace care staff, support workers, then counsellors, psychologists, teachers and more with robots, but do we want to? Do we want a world where we do nothing and all industry is run by AI? Working is valuable to a person’s wellbeing, we do indeed work too much or too hard and do jobs that are too risky but we all need a role to play in our communities. Replacing people with robotics may happen but we need to fill the gap for the people who lose their jobs over it, just simply retraining in a new career isn’t going to be easy. We need to view those who lose their place in life with empathy, understand that a job is not just a job. Then at the end of life do we want to leave people to the care of computers only, or do we want to make sure those resources, much needed resources go to keeping our social care staff growing and well trained.




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