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The Ethical Dilemma Of Robots In Care

Few issues are more contentious or emotive than the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and, more specifically, robots in care.

The heated debate around the future role of robots in our care system was once again highlighted recently in the findings of a survey by UK recruitment specialist, Randstad.

The survey, which was part of a drive to promote the use of technology and innovation to help offset the current skills shortage in the care sector, revealed that 83% of the UK population were opposed to any role for robots in care.

Of the 2,694 people consulted, only 470 (17%), thought robots had a role to play in providing care.

The findings were in line with other research carried out by Randstadi which revealed the UK lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of positive attitudes towards the use of AI in the workplace. The research showed that only 48% of UK citizens thought AI would positively affect their job in the next 5-10 years, compared to 59% globally and 88% in China.

The fact that the UK lags behind other nations in terms of the adoption of care technology will come as no surprise to digital suppliers who have been striving for the widespread adoption of their systems for years. As the Randstad survey demonstrates, however, the kneejerk resistance to the use of robots in a care capacity comes from a far deeper and more instinctive level.

Of course, in a people-based industry, where the highest degree of sensitivity is required in interacting with our most vulnerable members of society, this resistance is completely understandable. However, given the increasing strains on the care workforce, trialling the effective use of a robots in a supportive care capacity is surely worth exploration.

While no-one is advocating the direct replacement of carers with AI, trials have already indicated that the technology can help enhance care safety and quality with robots acting in a supervisory and data handling and transfer capacity.

Robots are being trialled in shift handovers, for example, a key risk area when the accurate transfer of information between one carer and another is essential to ensure the continued well-being of patients. Robots could also play a vital role in carrying out onerous, menial and admin tasks, leaving carers more to time to spend with patients.

Given the context of our care worker shortage, set against the rising demand of a rapidly ageing population, the debate over the role of robots is set to only intensify.

Sources: iDigitilization at Work

By Andrew Mason

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