Robots in aged care: a dystopian future?
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In this paper I describe a future in which persons in advanced old age are cared for entirely by robots and suggest that this would be a dystopia, which we would be well advised to avoid if we can. Paying attention to the objective elements of welfare rather than to people’s happiness reveals the central importance of respect and recognition, which robots cannot provide, to the practice of aged care. A realistic appreciation of the current economics of the aged care sector suggests that the introduction of robots into an aged care setting will most likely threaten rather than enhance these goods. I argue that, as a result, robotics for aged care is likely to transform aged care in accordance with a trajectory that leads towards this dystopian future even when this is not the intention of the engineers involved. While an argument can be made for the use of robots in aged care where the people being cared for have chosen to allow robots in this role, I suggest that overemphasising this possibility risks rendering it a self-fulfilling prophecy, depriving those being cared for of valuable social recognition, and failing to provide respect for older persons by allowing the options available to them to be shaped by the design choices of others.
KeywordsEthics Robots Robotics Aged care Society Social robotics
The research for this paper was supported under the Australian Research Council’s Centres of Excellence funding scheme (Project CE140100012). The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Australian Research Council. I would like to thank Professor Gesa Lindemann and Professor Gregor Fitzi for the invitation to attend the “Going beyond the Laboratory” conference. I’d also like to thank my mother, Linda Sparrow, and Catherine Mills for comments and discussion during the process of drafting this manuscript.
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