How would you feel about a robot looking after you in your elderly years? With an estimated 1.5 billion people expected to be over 65 by 2050, we would need about the same amount of people employed in the Aged Care industry to look after them all. That’s an astonishing projection of 30% of the population either providing or receiving aged care services. The future of retirement will require far more resources and new techniques to ensure quality care for the elderly, and this is where the elder-care robot will find its place.
Given an elder-care robot is essentially a computer with a human shape, it could perform a variety of essential functions, such as reminding seniors about daily tasks, when to take medications and storing a list of emergency contacts. They could also help to keep a senior’s mind sharp by engaging in conversation, or playing games and asking questions while simultaneously monitoring mental capacity and memory over time to determine if there are any problems.
They could also serve as a handy communications device between doctors and seniors. If the senior doesn’t need to physically go to hospital, which could be a stressful experience, the doctor could see him or her via a high-speed skype-like service, with the robot helping to facilitate that communication.
Leading the charge in elder-care robots are the Japanese. Known for their forays in the electronics industry, the government there has allocated $24 million of its 2013 budget for research and development of senior care robots as they prepare for the future of retirement. This is particularly relevant for the Japanese given their longer life spans and aging population. However, it isn’t much of a stretch to see other countries setting aside funding for this purpose, given the projected increases in the size of the aging population. This could really be the future of retirement.
I’m not sure if I’m entirely comfortable with the idea of a robot providing my general health care needs when I’m old. Perhaps I’ve watched too many sci-fi films where the robots have run amok. However, if they build robots that strictly adhere to good and safe principles, such as Asimov’s three laws of robotics, then we might just have a solution to a potentially big future problem.