Robots in aged care: a dystopian future

AI and Society 31 (4):1-10 (2016)
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In this paper I describe a future in which persons in advanced old age are cared for entirely by robots and suggest that this would be a dystopia, which we would be well advised to avoid if we can. Paying attention to the objective elements of welfare rather than to people’s happiness reveals the central importance of respect and recognition, which robots cannot provide, to the practice of aged care. A realistic appreciation of the current economics of the aged care sector suggests that the introduction of robots into an aged care setting will most likely threaten rather than enhance these goods. I argue that, as a result, the development of robotics is likely to transform aged care in accordance with a trajectory of development that leads towards this dystopian future even when this is not the intention of the engineers working to develop robots for aged care. While an argument can be made for the use of robots in aged care where the people being cared for have chosen to allow robots in this role, I suggest that over-emphasising this possibility risks rendering it a self-fulfilling prophecy, depriving those being cared for of valuable social recognition, and failing to provide respect for older persons by allowing the options available to them to be shaped by the design choices of others.



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Robert Sparrow
Monash University

Citations of this work

Ethics of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.Vincent C. Müller - 2020 - In Edward Zalta (ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Palo Alto, Cal.: CSLI, Stanford University. pp. 1-70.
Robots, rape, and representation.Robert Sparrow - 2017 - International Journal of Social Robotics 9 (4):465-477.
Sex robot fantasies.Robert Sparrow - 2021 - Journal of Medical Ethics 47 (1):33-34.
Robotics Has a Race Problem.Robert Sparrow - 2020 - Science, Technology, and Human Values 45 (3):538-560.

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References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - New York: Basic Books.
Phenomenology of Spirit.Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel - 1977 - Oxford: Oxford University Press. Edited by Arnold V. Miller & J. N. Findlay.

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