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Robo-Caregiving & Why You Might Delegate Your Loved Ones to a Robot
Robotics is already changing how we live, shop, invest, travel, and soon, robo-caregivers will transform how we provide care. AI will deliver extraordinarily innovative services in support of our loved ones, but the use of robots to care for our children, elderly and disabled will also give rise to some very human questions.
Robotics is already changing how we live, shop, invest, travel, and soon, robo-caregivers will transform how we provide care. Advances in AI will deliver extraordinarily innovative services in support of our loved ones. However, the use of robots to care for our children, elderly and disabled will also give rise to some very human questions.
Caregiving is social science jargon for providing unpaid support to a family member or friend who has physical, psychological or development needs. Most caregivers do not know what a caregiver is or even know that they are caregivers. Instead people providing care consider what they do to be the acts of a loving parent, partner, spouse, adult child, or good friend.
Caregiving is multifaceted. It can be as simple as making a phone call to say hello or dropping in on someone to share an hour or two. It can include driving an aging parent or sibling to the store or to the doctor’s office. A caregiver may also clean house, prepare a meal or manage medications. Some caregivers assist with the most intimate of activities - such as feeding, bathing, dressing or toileting. Caregiving research conducted by the MIT AgeLab indicates that rarely do these tasks wane over time; rather they are likely to grow in number, diversity and intensity of effort.
Caregiving does come at a cost. According to AARP, family caregivers provide help to loved ones an average of 24 hours per week – but one in four families dedicate more than 41 hours a week to caring. Many people, typically middle age adult daughters, are sandwiched between caring for children and elderly parents. Employed caregivers often face real challenges being able to work full-time and finding the time and flexibility necessary to build a career. While there are immeasurable rewards, providing care for an extended period may lead to fatigue, depression, stress, financial burden and ultimately caregiver burnout. In short, caregiving is a lot of work, but for most, it is also an act of love.
But which of those acts of love, under what conditions, would you delegate to a robot?
We live in a tech-enabled society and when there is a problem to be solved, many of us believe – there must be an app for that. Increasingly, we are going to say there must be a ‘bot for that. Just ask Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri, robots that are appearing in our homes seemingly by stealth.
Consider the following ‘bots of the future:
Robot Nurses – Family caregivers often serve as home nurses. Tasks may include medication management, wound care, physical help getting in and out of bed and even physical therapy.
Terapio is a medical robot assistant being developed in Japan that, for now, is being developed to assist nurses with patient medication management and collecting vital signs.
Another innovation from Japan, Robear, is a robot with giant arms and a gentle touch but with enough strength to lift a human. The robot may someday be an aid to nurses in skilled nursing facilities as well as to families helping to lift and move elderly patients from bed to a wheelchair, to the bathroom, etc.
Robot Companions – A new generation of robots are changing what we may consider to be companionship and social connectivity.
PARO, for example, is a huggable robot baby seal that serves as a therapeutic intervention for Alzheimer’s patients, PTSD sufferers, children with developmental disorders or others in hospitals and extended care facilities. Hasbro recently introduced a brand of interactive robot cats and dogs. “Joy for All” cyber pets are designed (according to Hasbro’s website) to bring “comfort, companionship and fun to elder loved ones.”
Researchers are now designing next gen humanoid robots to be able to understand social cues from those in their care thereby making a robo-caregiver more acceptable to both care recipients and their families. Developers at IBM envision that many of us may have robot roommates caring for us in older age. Researchers in Singapore are building robots that appear very human-like. So human-like in behavior that someday they may be capable of developing a relationship, even friendship, with a human such as that portrayed in the movie Robot and Frank.
Soon human caregivers will have choices to make. Will a robotic companion be an adequate substitute for human company for your elderly mother or father? If so, when – sometimes, all the time? Would you delegate reading a bedtime story to your five year old to a robot – never, sometimes, all the time?
Robot Drivers - The autonomous car is coming. Driverless technology is being heralded as freedom on wheels for older adults unable to drive as well as other transportation-disadvantaged groups.
Before celebrating the autonomous vehicle, consider the following scenarios. Your 87-year old mother no longer drives because her vision is failing but is otherwise in good health – would you have her picked up by a driverless car? What if she is in poor health and frail? What robot trips are acceptable for her to take solo – visiting a friend, shopping? What about trips to the doctor?
Now consider the other end of the age spectrum. Your 15-year old needs a ride to one of many school activities – do you let him ride in an autonomous vehicle alone? Now imagine he is 10 years old, is it still okay? What if he is five years old or a toddler?
Family caregiving has always been high-touch. But, the convergence of caregiving with high-tech is here. Designers, engineers and data scientists are rapidly advancing the power and promise of robotics to serve people and improve everyone’s quality of life. However, family caregivers that see providing care as part of who they are as good parents, spouses, partners, siblings, and adult children will have to decide how, when and where to substitute high touch with high tech in delivering those everyday acts of love called caregiving
Image by Shutterstock
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
It's hard to stop looking back and forth between these faces and the busts they came from.
- A quarantine project gone wild produces the possibly realistic faces of ancient Roman rulers.
- A designer worked with a machine learning app to produce the images.
- It's impossible to know if they're accurate, but they sure look plausible.
How the Roman emperors got faced<a href="https://payload.cargocollective.com/1/6/201108/14127595/2K-ENGLISH-24x36-Educational_v8_WATERMARKED_2000.jpg" ><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTUzMzIxMX0.OwHMrgKu4pzu0eCsmOUjybdkTcSlJpL_uWDCF2djRfc/img.jpg?width=980" id="775ca" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="436000b6976931b8320313478c624c82" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="lineup of emperor faces" data-width="1440" data-height="963" /></a>
Credit: Daniel Voshart<p>Voshart's imaginings began with an AI/neural-net program called <a href="https://www.artbreeder.com" target="_blank">Artbreeder</a>. The freemium online app intelligently generates new images from existing ones and can combine multiple images into…well, who knows. It's addictive — people have so far used it to generate nearly 72.7 million images, says the site — and it's easy to see how Voshart fell down the rabbit hole.</p><p>The Roman emperor project began with Voshart feeding Artbreeder images of 800 busts. Obviously, not all busts have weathered the centuries equally. Voshart told <a href="https://www.livescience.com/ai-roman-emperor-portraits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Live Science</a>, "There is a rule of thumb in computer programming called 'garbage in garbage out,' and it applies to Artbreeder. A well-lit, well-sculpted bust with little damage and standard face features is going to be quite easy to get a result." Fortunately, there were multiple busts for some of the emperors, and different angles of busts captured in different photographs.</p><p>For the renderings Artbreeder produced, each face required some 15-16 hours of additional input from Voshart, who was left to deduce/guess such details as hair and skin coloring, though in many cases, an individual's features suggested likely pigmentations. Voshart was also aided by written descriptions of some of the rulers.</p><p>There's no way to know for sure how frequently Voshart's guesses hit their marks. It is obviously the case, though, that his interpretations look incredibly plausible when you compare one of his emperors to the sculpture(s) from which it was derived.</p><p>For an in-depth description of Voshart's process, check out his posts on <a href="https://medium.com/@voshart/photoreal-roman-emperor-project-236be7f06c8f" target="_blank">Medium</a> or on his <a href="https://voshart.com/ROMAN-EMPEROR-PROJECT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>.</p><p>It's fascinating to feel like you're face-to-face with these ancient and sometimes notorious figures. Here are two examples, along with some of what we think we know about the men behind the faces.</p>
Caligula<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk4Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQ1NTE5NX0.LiTmhPQlygl9Fa9lxay8PFPCSqShv4ELxbBRFkOW_qM/img.jpg?width=980" id="7bae0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce795c554490fe0a36a8714b86f55b16" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Caligula, left
Nero<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NTAwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ2ODU0NX0.AgYuQZzRQCanqehSI5UeakpxU8fwLagMc_POH7xB3-M/img.jpg?width=980" id="a8825" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9e0593d79c591c97af4bd70f3423885e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Nero, left
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
To understand ourselves and our place in the universe, "we should have humility but also self-respect," Frank Wilczek writes in a new book.