As technology continues to advance at lightning speed, it’s not unreasonable to anticipate a day when robots will be involved in our daily lives and activities. Scientists are beginning to study how robots may be able to help seniors in particular, given that a large swath of the country is reaching its golden years. A Penn State News article, “Senior citizens may accept robot helpers, but fear robot masters” (February 2016), pointed out that with 8,000 Americans turning 65 each day, it’s important to find out how they might respond to robots programmed to provide care giving and medical assistance.
In a study of senior citizens conducted by the Penn State Media Effects Research Laboratory, seniors between ages 65 and 95 expressed general uneasiness about this brave new world. Robots that look too much like humans tend to cause fear and suspicion, and autonomous machines that are able to make their own decisions without waiting for commands can make people uncomfortable. These attitudes most likely come from the way robots have been portrayed in science fiction—who hasn’t enjoyed a movie where overly intelligent cyborgs attack their human creators? Luckily, the majority of older people do see robots as useful. Bionic buddies that provide physical assistance, information and entertainment are viewed quite favorably.
We may not have long to wait before seeing the real-world consequences of living with robotic assistance, thanks to Cyberdyne, a Japanese robotic equipment research and development company. Cyberdyne’s president is involved in cybernics, a field of study that combines robotics and neuroscience, and the company recently announced plans to build a “city of robots” retirement community in Tsukuba, Japan. This city will include a hospital and assisted-living facilities, as well as a number of robotic helpers working on industrial and agricultural development.* Hopefully, our friends on the other side of the planet will get along well with their robot helpers, and a new day will dawn in assisted living, allowing people to preserve their independence at any age.
*Inverse, “A ‘City of Robots’ Is Being Built in Tsukuba, Japan” (February 2016)