In 2017, it was projected that the number of people aged 60 and above would grow from 962 million to 2.1 billion by 2050 and 3.1 billion in 2100, according to a United Nations report. These statistics call for an increase in care for the elderly, a void that has the potential to be filled by artificial intelligence.
Individuals such as Tej Kohli, Rewired investor, are leading the way to this future reality by supporting the creation of new technologies for robots, to help them cope in the real world. While these technologies haven’t reached the sophistication of the Jetsons’ housekeeping robot Rosie quite yet, it would seem that it is only a matter of time before they do – ensuring that the world’s growing elderly population is in good hands.
Caretakers of the Future
Robots can clean our floors, mow our lawns and control our homes. With these sophisticated technologies already being implemented in many facets of our lives, why not welcome them as caretakers of our loved ones as well? Such technology hasn’t been perfected yet, but there are many prototypes in the advanced stages which might soon be introduced to society and accepted as part of everyday life.
One such prototype is the Care-o-bot from Fraunhofer IPA, which has the capability of bringing residents food and drinks, keeping them entertained and exercising their minds with memory games. The Care-o-bot has already been installed in a number of assisted living facilities in Germany.
Another machine with great potential is ASIMO, a robot designed by Honda to help people who have reduced mobility. It is able to carry objects, open doors, switch on lights, run, climb stairs and even communicate in sign language. When the technology for ASIMO is completed, it most certainly has the potential of revolutionising elderly care.
Theoretically, a robot that is capable of taking care of the elderly seems like a great idea and an effective solution to the rising need for caregivers. But what about the ethical discrepancies that AI has presented? For example, last year Microsoft introduced Tay, a chatbot that was taken down after 24 hours because it began spouting obscenities. How certain are we that AI’s morals and ethics can be properly controlled?
The concern for ethical issues of AI and the elderly is so prevalent that UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Discovery created a report that identified and addressed ethical concerns on the matter. What would happen if a patient refused their medication? The report discussed whether or not a robot has the capability to handle the situation proactively. Another concern that arose was whether or not a robot could decide if a patient was obese and therefore limit their food intake – a scary thought. A final concern that was reviewed is the moral and legal ambiguities of a human using a remote-controlled robot to restrain a patient.
AI has the potential to revolutionise elderly care, especially with the help of supporters such as Tej Kohli, robotics enthusiast, who has helped fund innovations that are giving AI new and exciting abilities. Of course, there are still kinks that need to be smoothed out before the elderly can safely be entrusted into the care of robots, but these developments hint at a future where the elderly population have more agency and are better cared for than ever before.