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Robot caregivers elicit mix of worry and enthusiasm among Americans

A Pew Research Center survey conducted last year offers some interesting insights into how people feel about robot caregivers and automation in general. Some Americans view robots as a possible solution to the anticipated shortage in caregivers for the nation’s aging population. However, many are concerned about the negative consequences of replacing human caregivers with technology.

One of the earliest caregiving robots ever created was PARO, a therapy robot in the form of a cuddly baby seal that helps patients who suffer from memory loss. Currently, researchers in Oklahoma State University and other institutions are developing robots that can not only serve as companions, but also perform household tasks, assess vital signs, lift people, seek assistance in emergencies and dispense medication.

Around 40 percent of survey respondents expressed interest in the idea of having a robot caregiver. They believe that such technology would help young people worry less about caring for elderly family members. In addition, robot caregivers would allow older adults more independence and enable them to remain in their own homes longer.

Among those interested in using robot caregivers, just over 20 percent feel they would provide better, more reliable care than paid human caregivers today. For example, a robot would not get tired nor let emotions or biases affect the quality of care provided. In addition, they can help ease the burden on family members who are often juggling other responsibilities.

Conversely, nearly 60 percent of adults said they would not want robot caregivers for themselves or loved ones. The main reason for this appeared to be a lack of trust and compassion. While some people believe that the human touch can never be replicated by technology, others are worried about robots making mistakes in caring for their family members. Some survey respondents liked the idea of having a human remotely monitor the robot, such as via video surveillance.