Professor Irena Papadopoulos, an expert in trans-cultural nursing, makes the economic case for digital intervention in the social care system. “Assistive, intelligent robots for older people could relieve pressures in hospitals and care homes as well as improving care delivery at home and promote independent living for the elderly,” she argues.
A prototype robot is expected to be released onto the market next year, making the prospect of robots as carers a reality. But this begs the question: what kind of partnership will exist between robot and carer? Will robots ever be able to anticipate and fully interpret patient needs through their gestures and body language? Will a hand silently outstretched be understood as need for a pill or a reassuring squeeze?
In other words, are robots really expected to be companions to the elderly or simply programmed to act as a caring butler who dishes out the medication? Human communication is not a ping-pong exchange but a constant minuet of non-verbal cues and altogether a richer dynamic. Researchers are getting to grips with the extraordinary complexity of non-verbal gesturing and the idea of shared attention: if two people are discussing an object, subliminally they will track each other’s gaze.
Robots have been sent to Mars, the bottom of the ocean and to the core of a volcano. But navigating the nuances and intricacies of human interaction is infinitely more complex. And as researchers and coders aim for equivalency – in the field of communication at least – expect ethicists to step centre stage and work closely with HR teams in this new era of digital.
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Author: Helen Beckett
Helen Beckett is the Community Manager of the Business Value Exchange. She has been a writer and editor for over 20 years and takes a particular interest in the challenges facing the CIO in today’s business climate.