A couple of weeks ago, the BBC featured an article entitled “Robots could help solve social care crisis, say academics” which suggests that humanoid robots could one day alleviate the current health care crisis.
All of us will agree that technology is worth supporting and exploring if it makes lives for humans safer, more productive, and more enjoyable. We all know how improvements in science and robotics have transformed the way we do things from household chores to the mass-production of everyday items to keeping our country safer to exploring alien worlds. Suddenly, the terms “self-driving cars” and “delivery drones” are not as far-fetched as they were a decade ago.
As with everything “high-tech”, a line needs to be drawn somewhere. There will always be a limit to how far we can push things – technologically and morally. In the field of health care, having socially-trained robots may be just that.
We are all aware that the UK’s ageing population and the steady decrease in the country’s healthcare workforce point to a seemingly hopeless situation. The country is just unable to cope with the current social care crisis that it will require several things to work simultaneously: a serious commitment and investment from the UK government to encourage people to take up caring as a career, a review of immigration and recruitment policies to fill the short-term employment gaps, and funding support for both the NHS and local councils to ensure that the most vulnerable in society receive the care they need. And that’s just for starters.
Providing funding to develop “culturally-sensitive” robots to “relieve pressures in hospitals and care homes” is clearly not one of these solutions. According to the BBC report, the project will cost £2M and aims to build robots which will offer support from giving medication to providing companionship.
Call me old-fashioned and sentimental, but the notion of having robots look after a loved one will never carry the same appeal as a robot providing assistance with mundane tasks such as drilling rivets onto a metal sheet or mowing the lawn.
And I guess that is the whole point: providing care should never be treated as “mundane”.
What makes care special is not the precision by which medication is provided or the ability to follow all procedures perfectly. Caring is all about the human connection, the friendship, the empathy and that special bond between people.
It is not about “going through the motions”, but rather, it is about recognising and showing emotions. It is about the laughter, the tears, the stories, the jokes and being there for the other person. “Caring is more than just a job, it is a calling” as the adage goes. It can be a difficult, tiring yet fulfilling career and it is not for everyone.
It is most certainly not for robots.