by Graham Pierrepoint
If you’ve been paying attention to the news in recent months, you’ll already know that robots are no longer just a sci-fi staple – and that Isaac Asimov has a lot to answer for! They can now readily beat us at chess, can drive us around and can even help us with day-to-day chores – the idea of ‘Rosie the Robot’ from The Jetsons is no longer a silly concept – it’s fast becoming reality. Those among us who fear a robotic uprising akin to the likes of the Terminator movies may not need to worry just yet – though you’ll share a common worry with the late Professor Stephen Hawking, who warned against the rise of artificial intelligence, or AI, on multiple occasions.
▶ Stephen Hawking: Robots Will Replace Humans Completely
However, it seems that the UK is willing to buy into the idea of helpful robots and, in a bid to help assist the frail and elderly, an EU-funded scheme to the tune of $3.4 million is set to dispatch 1.2m-tall robotic companions to care homes up and down the country. A trial scheme is believed to be getting underway this September, meaning that retirement home residents will soon be able to hold conversations with automatons – as it’s thought that the creations will be able to recognize individual patient needs, thus relieving the strain from care staff and families alike. As the UK care home system continues to require more and more staff, it seems to be a move that’s clicked with those looking at making the facilities more efficient.
However, those concerned about the well-being of care home patients are worried that this move removes the human touch – and while the robots will come fitted with a touchscreen and Skype call facilities, it’s also been made clear that no care staff will be getting replaced as a result of the pilot scheme. In conversation with the UK press, Judy Downey for the Relatives and Residents Association advised that the move could risk making care home residents lose that personal touch. “The key to looking after someone is having a relationship in which you might notice if someone is upset after a phone call, or if they look unwell – what matters is the smile, the human touch.”
The scheme is set to pilot this fall – and there’s no telling whether or not it may stretch across the pond to the US just yet.
For some use cases robots have already been found to show great potential, such as helping patients with severe dementia:
▶ Me And Mario: Robots That Care