In society today we are expected to take care of the elderly for even longer as medical practice continue to give us even longer lives. The problem is that, although medical science will keep us alive for longer it won't deal with many of the problems that the elderly suffer from such as: the loneliness of living alone, a lack of movement which can cause stiff joints, calling emergency services for help when there's a fall.
But now robotic helpers are starting to be deployed in nursing homes and private homes across the world. Belgium company, Zora has been developing their caring robot for precisely that purpose. As this video demonstrates, Zora is capable of becoming the ideal (if humans aren’t available) way of demonstrating a range of exercises to keep the elderly supple in a group environment.
But, in the documentary film “Alice Cares”, a new type of caredroid, as these things are becoming known, is filmed looking after three elderly ladies. This article in The Lancet explains more about the documentary, but in essence it looks at the issue of loneliness that afflicts so many elderly and how they relate to having a robot companion in their homes. Alice, the robot, with doll-head and robot body, is installed with the most up-to-date software, developed by Services of Electro-mechanical Care Agencies (SELEMCA). This groundbreaking software “generates and regulates Alice's emotions, has an artificial moral reasoner, a computational model of creativity, and full access to the internet” and aims to make people feel less lonely at a time when social workers and caregivers have increasingly little time to spend with their wards.
As the above Lancet article says:
“Although the care that is provided by a real doctor, therapist, caregiver, or family member can never be substituted, robots could one day be a useful addition in the care of patients and older adults. As Burger remarks, “I think the best way to explain how to look at health-care robots is the following example used by Johan F Hoorn: nobody wants a wooden leg, but if you have no leg, a wooden leg is always better than no leg at all.””
Whilst caredroids will take care of those who want to talk to people, there is also a robot which prevents people talking to others. The monks of Longquan Temple, outside of Beijing, were so concerned about being disturbed by tourists that they have invested in Xian'er. This ‘buddha-bot’ is a cartoon depiction of a monk with its round figure, shaven head and yellow robe holding a touchscreen. Via the screen visitors can have 20 questions about Buddhism and a monk’s daily life answered and it’s hoped that through this media attention he’ll be able to spread interest in the religion.
With it being determined that humans find realistic androids frightening, due to the uncanny valley hypothesis, the android helpers of the future will look like robots as they move around our homes helping us with everyday tasks.