Readers of our news blog will have seen recent posts on the dependency ratio – the notion that people in the middle of the age range produce the economic surplus needed to rear the next generation and look after the preceding generation over ever-lengthening timescales. Nowhere is the dependency ratio more adverse than in Japan – the country with the world’s greatest longevity has a fertility rate of 1.4 and a dependency ratio of 62:100. One way to tackle the problem is to follow pro-natalist policies. Another is to boost productivity in the middle. What better way to do this than to substitute human labour with machines? The trouble has always been that service industries, on which advanced countries largely depend, resist mechanisation. But not anymore; the first hotel staffed by robots has opened and, unsurprisingly, it is in Nagasaki, Japan.
Looking after old people is also very time intensive but it would appear that technology to ameliorate the problem is at hand. For example, battery-powered suits have been developed in Japan that function as an exoskeleton, sensing and amplifying the wearer’s muscle action, and helping carers lift patients into a bath or out of a bed. The suit can also be worn by patients themselves, to help them move around and do things without support. Furthermore, a project by Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, in partnership with the University of Sheffield, is evaluating the effectiveness of a robotic baby seal, which reacts to touch and sound, to manage distress and anxiety in dementia patients.
Would the CLAHRC WM Director prefer a warm-hearted human being over a robot when his time comes? Certainly, but he would prefer the robot over nothing at all.
— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director
- Index Mundi. Japan Demographics Profile 2014. July 2014.
- Cuthbertson A. Hotel staffed by humanoid robots set to open in Japan this summer. International Business Times. 9 February 2015.
- The Economist. Difference Engine: The Caring Robot. The Economist. 14 May 2013.
- Griffiths A. How Paro the robot seal is being used to help UK dementia patients. The Guardian. 8 July 2014.