Automation caregiving: Should we hand over the care of loved ones to robots?

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Automation caregiving: Should we hand over the care of loved ones to robots?

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Automation caregiving: Should we hand over the care of loved ones to robots?

Subheading text
Robots are used to automate some repetitive caregiving tasks, but there are concerns they may reduce levels of empathy towards patients.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • October 7, 2022

    Post text

    As robots and automation software become more commonplace, the caregiving industry faces an uncertain future. While automation may lead to decreased costs and increased efficiency, it can also result in widespread unemployment within the sector and a lack of empathy towards patients.

    Automation caregiving context

    Personal assistance occupations (especially in the healthcare sector) are expected to be among the fastest-growing jobs, contributing about 20 percent to all new employment by 2026, according to a 10-year US Bureau of Labor Statistics survey. At the same time, many personal assistance occupations will experience workforce shortages during this same period. In particular, the elderly care sector will already have a shortage of human workers by 2030, when 34 countries are projected to become “super-aged” (one-fifth of the population is over 65 years old). Automation is anticipated to lessen some of the severe consequences of these trends. And as the cost of producing a robot decreases by a projected $10,000 per industrial machine by 2025, more sectors will use them to save on labor costs. 

    In particular, caregiving is a field interested in testing automation strategies. There are examples of robot caregivers in Japan; they dispense pills, act as companions for the elderly, or provide physical assistance. These robots are often cheaper and more efficient than their human counterparts. In addition, some machines work alongside human caregivers to help them provide better care. These “collaborative robots,” or cobots, assist with basic tasks like lifting patients or monitoring their stats. Cobots allow human caregivers to focus on providing emotional support and psychological care to their patients, which may be a more valuable service than routine tasks like dispensing medication or bathing.

    Disruptive impact

    According to some experts, there are two general scenarios in which automation of elderly care can play out. In the first scenario, robots become cheap and efficient care laborers for predictable tasks, such as giving medication or providing comfort through touch. However, human empathy is commoditized as a result. The more homes are robotized, the more human carers may be considered a premium benefit reserved for those who can pay for human care and touch. In other words, human compassion may eventually become an added commercial service within the caregiving market, with its value inflated.

    In the second scenario, people have a fundamental right to human empathy; robots would take on some of the emotional labor currently expected from elderly care workers. These machines would help patients by being counselors and companions, freeing up humans to use their specialized skills like deep conversations and sympathy. As a result, the value of carers rises along with human connection. In addition, developments in smart home technology can help prepare tasks in advance, allowing human caregivers to spend more time with their patients instead of focusing on fulfilling all their needs. Investing more into cobots and assisted care innovation versus full automation makes it possible to create an efficient care economy rooted in empathy and compassion. 

    Implications of automation caregiving

    Wider implications of automation caregiving may include: 

    • Increasing concerns about algorithmic bias that may train machines to assume that all senior citizens and people with disabilities act similarly. This trend may lead to more depersonalization and even poor decision-making.
    • The elderly insisting on human care instead of robots, citing privacy violations and lack of empathy.
    • Human caregivers being retrained to focus on providing psychological and counseling support, as well as the management and maintenance of caregiving machines.
    • Hospices and elderly homes using cobots alongside human caregivers to automate tasks while still providing human oversight.
    • Governments regulating what robot caregivers are allowed to do, including who will be responsible for life-threatening errors committed by these machines.

    Questions to comment on

    • If you think caregiving should be automated, what is the best way to go about it?
    • What are the other potential risks and limitations of involving robots in caregiving?

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