At Age UK, we regularly have discussions about the sorts of things that need to happen to bring about an end to the care crisis once and for all. One of the suggestions (normally with tongue at least partly in cheek) is that we all simply need a robot.
The 2004 film, ‘I, Robot’, pictured such a future. In the early scenes, we are introduced to Will Smith’s character’s grandmother who has recently bought herself a human-like robot who can help her around the house. It’s clear in the film that, ignoring the subsequent robot uprising for a second, it is a solution that works well.
Could science fiction be used to help solve the care crisis in reality? Could everyone simply be given a personal robot to help them with eating, dressing or going to the toilet?
It would certainly keep people in their own homes. From a local authority point of view, it might also represent a far more cost-effective measure as well.
The view amongst my colleagues at Age UK is almost split down the middle. Some of us embrace this eventuality, gleefully waiting for our very own robot to look after us so we can stay independent in our own homes.
The rest of us are appalled at the idea, worried about the prospect of losing all human interaction and only having an impersonal, emotionless robot to talk to.
Eighteen months ago, I had the opportunity to visit Japan to find out more about how the social care system works in a country with the oldest population in the world. Unfortunately, my wild expectations that every care home would have a robot – or at the very least, high levels of technology – were quickly disappointed. Care in Japan is a high personal activity conducted exclusively by humans.
ROBOT VACUUM CLEANERS
An article in the Guardian earlier this year pointed to the possible answer, which lies firmly in the middle. Care homes in Denmark are embracing technology in the form of robot vacuum cleaners. This is leading to staff taking less time cleaning and having more time to care for residents.
Maybe it is not about developing a human-like robot that can take over all caring responsibilities but instead for technology to do enough to free up time for humans to maintain interaction, prevent loneliness and support someone’s wellbeing.
That way, the best of both worlds can be found, where a cost-effective means of staying independent can be matched with carers who have more time to help with the human side of life.