Does Your Grandpa Want a Robot for a Pal?

robotIt’s a problem that is getting a lot of attention. The world’s population is getting older. If you are under 70 years of age today, AI will likely be involved in how you are cared for. If a child is born into your family today, those who make such predictions say she or he can expect to live 100 years, or longer.

The problem is complicated further by predictions that as many as a billion jobs may disappear, replaced by automation in the workplace. I am researching for a book I plan to write: Augmenting People: Why AI Should Back Us Up, Not Push Us Out. I think that the future of humankind may be decided by how business and society address this issue, but for now, let’s just address caring for our elders.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is about to play a huge role in this area–as in so many other areas. For example, Google is developing AI retinal sensors to detect cardiovascular diseases. There will soon be nanochips that swim a patient’s bloodstream hunting down cancer cells and big pharma companies are developing AI-enabled drugs to detect debilitating and fatal diseases. Surgeons are using robotics to perform delicate operations with increased precision and less intrusion.

All of these are medical miracles if you ask me, but miracles have a tendency to create unintended consequences. The United Nations predicts that by the year 2100, the world’s elderly population will rise from 965 million today to about 3.1 billion people:

Who will care for them?

As I continue my research, I have been thinking there will be a great many new jobs created for younger people by the needs of older people. After all, speculation varies on it, but predictions for humans being replaced by Robots, Chatbots, Nanobots, and other AI systems in future versions of today’s workplace vary greatly with at least one futurist predicting a loss of one billion jobs in a population that continues to grow.

Surely, people will always be needed to help people. We have certain qualities that no robotic machine will have in any future scenario for most of this AI-dominated century. The smartest of these machines have not a single iota of common sense. The chatbot that gives you the wrong answer online doesn’t really mean it when it says they are sorry it didn’t work, because it lacks empathy. The faces of future robots may become extremely realistic, but I believe there will remain something mechanical in their eyes when they gaze into those of an elder patient who wishes to be listened to.

Don’t get me wrong. AI can and will do a great deal for senior citizens. In my recent talks on Facebook, several people pointed to the wonderful help that voice-activated AI devices such as Amazon Echo, Siri and Google Assistant can provide and this is bound to get better. But right now these devices really can’t provide much help based on the context of age, mental health or personal history of a user, particularly if dementia accompanies old age.

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