Ethical Considerations Regarding the Use of Social Robots in the Fourth Age

Geropsych 26 (2):121-133 (2013)
Mog Stapleton
University Tübingen
The debate about the use of robots in the care of older adults has often been dominated by either overly optimistic visions (coming particularly from Japan), in which robots are seamlessly incorporated into society thereby enhancing quality of life for everyone; or by extremely pessimistic scenarios that paint such a future as horrifying. We reject this dichotomy and argue for a more differentiated ethical evaluation of the possibilities and risks involved with the use of social robots. In a critical discussion surrounding the capabilities approach to the ethical evaluation of quality of life, we develop an ethical framework that is more appropriate to the situation of the oldest old. We urge employment of a context-dependent approach to the ethical evaluation of new technologies in the care and therapy of older adults, and using the example of the robotic seal Paro, we show how this can be accomplished in a sensible and practical way.
Keywords ethics of technology, social robots, roboethics, capabilities, care in the fourth age, robot assisted therapy, human-robot interaction, Paro
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