Do you remember your childhood? How did you spend your time? What was your favorite thing to do? I remember playing sports and video games all day with my friends. I used to love going to school to see everybody and play with them. One thing I don’t remember being in my childhood is robots. I don’t remember developing feelings for things that don’t feel things for me. However, this may be the direction that our world is heading, The future advancement of robots is unthinkable. Already a large part in the lives of many, how much of an impact will these robots have decades or centuries down the line? Sherry Turkle covers an array of topics in her book Alone Together. One of the topics she discusses is the advancement of robots. She talked about some of the affects that these robots had on children, and how children are much more prone to developing actual feelings for the robots. She also talked about a transfer of thinking with the robots to feeling the robots. All of these ideas are very compelling and should be discussed a little bit more. Right now, it is apparent that robots are mostly affecting children’s lives. Obviously, most adults are able to understand that robots aren’t real and therefore it’s stupid to have real emotions for them. Some of the technologies/robots that Turkle talked about included the tamagotchi and the furbi. The tamagotchi is basically just a character that one must take care of through a small handheld device. The tamagotchi can’t be turned off unless it is reset. In this case, the tamagotchi that a child had created is no longer available, and a new one must be made. Most of the children do not seem to develop any emotions for the device, as they can tell it is just a screen. The furby seemed to be a different story, however. In creating the book, furby’s were taken to a group of children at school. They took the furby’s home for two weeks and some of their reactions were described. Many of the children developed actually feelings for the furby. For example, if the furby was yelling, the child got sad and wanted to cheer it up. Also, similar to the tamagotchi, the furby could not be shut down unless the batteries were taken out. The shutting down of a furby, however, created a much more emotional response for the children. When a furby had to be shut down, the children described the furby as dying. In this case, the children often had no interest in putting the batteries back in, as they thought their “real” furby had died. This idea is very powerful. It is strange to think about how some of the children reacted to these technologies. Robots will continue to advance in their possibilities, but it’s impossible to describe exactly the impact they may have in the future. This not only stands for children, but all age groups. Whether these advances are good or bad is up to you to decide. 1.”How Robots Will Change Our Lives.” CNBC. N.p., 13 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 Feb. 2015. <http://www.cnbc.com/id/100635439/page/2>.
It is no secret that the current population is aging, and aging quickly. There is a growing concern for the availability of care for the increasing number of elderly. Although this worry is prevalent in the U.S., it is also true on a global scale. In Germany, the ratio of caregivers to care recipients is expected to grow from 1:9 to 1:17 by the year 2050.1 An entire industry is built around the necessary care of the elderly, and many fear that such labor will not be able to keep up with the demand. In Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, an alternative solution is presented: the use of robotics to provide care, security, and companionship for the aging population.
The idea that robots can successfully replace caretakers could be argued from two distinct viewpoints. On one hand, the reality must be faced: there will simply be a greater number of elderly people requiring care than there will be people willing to provide the care. In this respect, robots could potentially serve a very pragmatic role. Some of the current robotic machines on the market are used for bathing, mobility, tracking vital signs, dispensing medication, and calling for emergency care when needed.1 Such uses could make the difference between life and death in certain situations when constant human care is simply not available.
In a journal article by Jennifer Parks, another interesting perspective is offered on this topic. Parks notes that the field of caretaking is overwhelmingly and historically delegated to women. The responsibility of “community care services” almost always falls to the female population. Indeed, I challenge you to walk into a nursing home and locate a significant number of male nurses. This gender imbalance creates an issue in which women in the caretaking industry are subject to heavy and repetitious labor roles, which can even result in injury and “care burnout.” In this regard, Turkle offers that robots could potentially eliminate the cruelty that, unfortunately, exists among caretakers of the elderly.2 However, there are also many drawbacks to this form of artificial human care.
Despite the practical use of robots, they are ultimately still highly “inauthentic” when it comes to human interaction. Robotics may be useful in bathing an elderly patient, but that experience now lacks the personal touch and nurture that only a human can provide. The mechanic care given by robots can also play a part in eliminating dignity for the elderly. For someone who lives in a care facility with little freedom, the interaction with real human nurses may be the only thing they look forward to in a given day.
Finally, it is important to recognize how the use of robots can mentally affect the caretakers they replace. To a certain extent, humans need the “burden” of care in order to validate their ability to provide love.2 This responsibility makes us feel needed, and the person being cared for, consequently, reciprocates with love and appreciation. Although the amount of care needed for the aging population can be overwhelming, it also provides an opportunity to perform very fulfilling work. Robots may be able to replace humans in some cases, but caretakers and care recipients are both missing out in this arrangement.
1Parks, Jennifer, “Lifting the Burden of Women’s Care Work: Should Robots Replace the ‘Human Touch’?” Hypatia, 18 Dec 2009.
2Turkle, Sherry, Alone Together. 2010.