You’ve got a friend in me: sociable robots for older adults in an age of global pandemics

Ethics and Information Technology 23 (S1):35-43 (2020)
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Abstract

Social isolation and loneliness are ongoing threats to health made worse by the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. During the pandemic, half the globe's population have been placed under strict physical distancing orders and many long-term care facilities serving older adults went into lockdown mode, restricting access to all visitors, including family members. Before the pandemic emerged, a 2020 National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report warned of the underappreciated adverse effects of social isolation and loneliness on health, especially among older populations. Social isolation and loneliness predict all-cause mortality at rates that rival clinical risk factors, such as obesity and smoking; they are associated with greater incidence of psychological, cognitive, and physical morbidities. This paper sets forth a proposal to design robots to function as companions and friends for socially isolated and lonely older people during pandemic emergencies and in aging societies more generally. “The proposal” section presents and defends the proposal. The “Replies to objections” section answers objections based on coercive design, replacement of humans with robots, privacy incursions, and counterfeit companionship. The “Conclusion” section submits that sociable robots offer a promising avenue for addressing social isolation and loneliness during pandemics and hold promise for aging societies more broadly.

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Nancy Jecker
University of Washington

References found in this work

Why Privacy is Important.James Rachels - 1975 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 4 (4):323-333.

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