Letter: ‘Caring’ robots are a tragedy for vulnerable
This letter sent to the Star was written by Mary Steele, Deerlands Avenue, Parson Cross, S5
Over recent years, millions of pounds of EU funding has been poured into the Framework 7 Project aimed at unleashing robots into the social care system. As a result EU funded research, carried out at Bristol Robotics Laboratory (MOBISERV), involved user groups taking part in trials. Designed to support independent living of those either at home or in care homes, health status monitors with SMART sensors were stitched into under or night wear. Tele-alarms warned of missed meals, drinks and included a facility for keeping in touch with relatives, medical staff etc., ensured medication was taken, provided nutrition assistance in the form of advice. A built-in health coach prompted exercise, monitored vital signs, detected falls and facial expression recognition allowed it to monitor signs of distress or pleasure.In October 2017, Mail online reported that a £15.000 'robot companion' was due to patrol care homes in Southampton, speaking to elderly residents. In a separate trial, robots were about to be used to bolster staff at homes in UK, Poland and Greece. Forming part of the EU Consortium overseeing the project, World Health Organisation business partners soon identified substantial business opportunities expected to raise approximately £12 billion by 2020 (Guardian 14.3.16). Already, the UK has its eye on the financial ball recognising it as a 'potential for growth in the UK economy'. Indeed, a government Press Release (26.10.19) stated that 'robots could revolutionise the care system and provide staff with extra support'. 'Care companions' are still in their infancy but what a windfall for big business should they become intelligent enough to replace the workforce with its ever-increasing wage bill! What a tragedy for the vulnerable should these menacing contraptions, complete with programmed actions and artificial responses yet devoid of the ability to preserve dignity and provide genuine emotional support, be allowed to advance into their lives at a time when warmth, caring and human contact are the only things making life bearable.