Care robots and the future of ICT-mediated elderly care: a response to doom scenarios

AI and Society 31 (4):455-462 (2016)
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Abstract

The discussion about robots in elderly care is populated by doom scenarios about a totally dehumanized care system in which elderly people are taken care of by machines. Such scenarios are helpful as they attend us to what we think is important with regard to the quality elderly care. However, this article argues that they are misleading in so far as they (1) assume that deception in care is always morally unacceptable, (2) suggest that robots and other information technologies necessarily deceive elderly people by creating a “virtual” world as opposed to a “real” world, (3) assume that elderly people of the future have similar ICT skills and interests as the elderly people of today, and (4) assume a simplistic view of technologies. The article suggests an approach to evaluating care robots and ICT in health care which acknowledges and addresses a number of ethical problems raised by robotic care—for instance disengagement problems—while taking into account that some elderly people may need care that does not treat them as (empirically) autonomous, that many the elderly of the future are likely to be digital natives, and that the task of evaluating technologies in care is more complicated than the discussion of deception suggests.

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Mark Coeckelbergh
University of Vienna