When Will We Have Robots In Our Homes

5 min read

When Will We Have Robots In Our Homes – It’s one you’ve probably seen before: a big white robot with a cute teddy bear face holding a smiling woman. Images of Robier’s prototype lifting robot have been produced endlessly. They still rank prominently in Google image search results for “care robot.” The images are designed to give a sense of how far robots have come and how we may rely on them to care for others in the near future. But devices like Robier, which was launched in Japan in 2015, have yet to become commonplace in care facilities or private homes.

Why didn’t they take it off? The answer tells us something about the limits of techno-solutionism and the need to rethink our approach to care.

When Will We Have Robots In Our Homes

When Will We Have Robots In Our Homes

Japan has been developing robots to care for the elderly for more than two decades, with public and private investment booming in the 2010s. In 2018, the national government alone spent more than $300 million to fund research and development for such devices. At first glance, the rationale for robotizing the nursing profession seems clear. Almost any news article, presentation, or academic paper on the subject is preceded by a series of alarming facts and figures about Japan’s aging population: the birth rate is below replacement, the shrinking population is disappearing, and in 2000, every person over age 65 there are about four working adults per person, and by 2050 the two groups will be close to parity. The number of elderly people in need of care and the costs of their care are growing rapidly. Meanwhile, the acute shortage of care workers is expected to worsen over the next decade. To be sure, many in Japan look to robots as a way to fill in those lost workers without facing the tough questions of paying higher wages or importing cheap migrant workers, which Japan’s conservative government is increasingly pushing.

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Service robots come in all shapes and sizes. Some are for physical care, including machines that help lift older people when they can’t stand on their own; assistance with mobility and exercise; monitor their physical activity and detect falls; feed them; and help them bathe or use the toilet. Others encourage older adults to manage, slow, and even prevent cognitive decline socially and emotionally; They can also provide support and care for lonely older people, make dementia-related conditions more accessible to care workers and reduce the number of carers needed for day-to-day care. These robots are expensive to buy or rent and are currently sold mostly to residential facilities.

A growing body of evidence finds that robots tend to create more jobs for caregivers.

In Japan, robots are often seen as a natural solution to the “problem” of caring for the elderly. The country has extensive experience in industrial robotics and has been a world leader in human-robot research for decades. At the same time, most Japanese seem to accept the idea of ​​interacting with robots, at least in everyday life. Commentators often point to religious and cultural explanations for this apparent love, particularly the animistic worldview that encourages people to see robots as their own beings, and the character of robots in manga and animation. huge popularity. Robotics companies and allied politicians have promoted the idea that care robots will ease the burden on human care workers and become a major new export industry for Japanese manufacturers. The titles of not one, but two books (published in 2006 and 2011 and written by Nakayama Shin and Kishi Nobuhito, respectively) reflect this belief:

The reality is, of course, more complicated, and the popularity of robots among Japanese people owes much to decades of relentless promotion by the government, media and industry. Embracing the idea of ​​robots is one thing; Another is to be willing to interact with them in real life. Moreover, their real-life abilities fall short of the expectations created by their sensational images. Despite the hype for robot enthusiasts, government subsidies, and real technological advances by engineers and programmers, it’s an inconvenient reality that robots don’t play a significant role in most people’s daily lives in Japan. In caring for the elderly.

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A large national survey of more than 9,000 elderly care organizations in Japan found that only 10% offered any kind of care robots in 2019, while a 2021 study found that only 2% of 444 home care samplers offered elderly care. has experience in care. robots. There is some evidence that when robots are purchased, they are often used for a short time before being shelved.

My research focuses on this disconnect between the promises of robotic care and their implementation and use. Since 2016, I have spent over 18 months conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Japan, including spending time in a nursing home investigating three of them: Hug, a lifting robot; Paro, a robotic seal; and Pepper, a humanoid robot. Hugs aims to prevent care workers from manually removing residents by offering Paro a robotic form of animal care (while also serving as a trick for some people with dementia who work around the clock). (repeatedly requested by) and behavior. pepper vacation exercises to free up employees for other duties.

But soon problems arose. Staff stopped using Hug after a few days, saying it was difficult and time-consuming to move from room to room – during which time they had to interact with residents. And only a few of them can be comfortably lifted by car.

When Will We Have Robots In Our Homes

Paro was warmly welcomed by staff and residents. Like a soft, cuddly toy seal, users can pet it and make noises, shake its head and wag its tail when spoken to. At first, the guards were very happy with the robot. However, difficulties soon arose. One resident constantly removed Paro’s outer layer of synthetic fur in an attempt to “skin-to-skin,” while another refused to eat or sleep without her nearby, forming a very close bond. Staff had to closely monitor interactions with Paro residents and this did not reduce the repetitive behavior of people with severe dementia.

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Pepper used to host recreational activities held every afternoon. Instead of conducting activities like karaoke or socializing with residents, the bailiff spends hours loading pepper and walking around the front room. Then he comes to life, plays some upbeat music and a pre-recorded rendition of his squeaky voice, and begins a series of upper body exercises for the residents to watch. But caregivers soon realized that in order for residents to participate in the exercise, they had to stand next to the robot, mimic its movements, and repeat its instructions. Since it was a relatively short set of songs and exercises, after a few weeks boredom set in and they started using less pepper.

Care crises are not a natural or inevitable consequence of population ageing. Rather, they are the result of certain political and economic choices.

In other words, the machines could not save the workers. Care Robots themselves require care: they need to be moved, cared for, cleaned, loaded, operated, frequently explained to the public, constantly monitored during use, and then put away. In fact, a growing body of evidence from other studies finds that robots destroy creativity

But what’s interesting is the kind of work they create. Previously, the maintenance workers were engaged in their own entertainment, now they only have to imitate the pepper. Instead of connecting and interacting with residents, they can now play with Paro and monitor interactions remotely. While workers are used to picking up a resident to chat and build rapport, hug machine users have to pause the conversation so they have time to return the robot to its storage area. In each case, existing social and communication-based tasks are replaced by new tasks that involve more interaction with robots than with residents. Instead of saving employees more time than human labor for social and emotional care, robots have actually reduced the amount of such work.

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What kind of future do such devices point to, and what do they need to be “solutions” to the care crisis? Given the need to control costs, this seems the most likely scenario for widespread use. Such residential robots will unfortunately employ more people

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