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Date: 25 Mar 2014

Robot carers, ethics, and older people

Abstract

This paper offers an ethical framework for the development of robots as home companions that are intended to address the isolation and reduced physical functioning of frail older people with capacity, especially those living alone in a noninstitutional setting. Our ethical framework gives autonomy priority in a list of purposes served by assistive technology in general, and carebots in particular. It first introduces the notion of “presence” and draws a distinction between humanoid multi-function robots and non-humanoid robots to suggest that the former provide a more sophisticated presence than the latter. It then looks at the difference between lower-tech assistive technological support for older people and its benefits, and contrasts these with what robots can offer. This provides some context for the ethical assessment of robotic assistive technology. We then consider what might need to be added to presence to produce care from a companion robot that deals with older people’s reduced functioning and isolation. Finally, we outline and explain our ethical framework. We discuss how it combines sometimes conflicting values that the design of a carebot might incorporate, if informed by an analysis of the different roles that can be served by a companion robot.