Care users should get ‘no robot replacement’ promise: think-tank

Social Market Foundation report identifies concerns that technology will ‘replace human interaction’.

Chloe Green | 15th May 18
Image of friendly robot representing social care AI Image: Alex Knight, Upsplash

People receiving social care from charitable and other institutions should be given a guarantee that digital technology such as robots and remote-monitoring systems will not be used to replace their interaction with human carers, a think-tank has said.

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) said ‘fourth industrial revolution’ (4IR)* technology has the potential to improve the lives of people receiving care, as long as the adoption of that technology is ‘properly handled’.

In a report that identifies public concerns about new technology as a potential barrier to adoption, the SMF suggested that the Care Quality Commission could introduce a new ‘fundamental standard’ for care, insisting that providers use technology to complement human interaction, and not replace it.

The SMF report, 4IR in the Home: Maximising the Benefits, also suggested that ministers move quickly to set clear public criteria for any move by the BBC to switch-off its broadcast television signal and switch to online-digital-only delivery of its programme content.

Ministers developing a cross-governmental strategy for artificial intelligence**, automation, the Internet of Things (IoT) and autonomous vehicles, should set up ‘consumer panels’ to reflect the views of the public – especially those on low incomes, disabled people and older people, the report said.

Technology has the potential to dramatically change and improve living standards for people receiving care and their families, the report said. The SMF also highlighted the use of ‘care-bots’: these are robots given the form of animals that are used to help dementia patients and people with other mental impairments to maintain cognitive function and social skills.

For example, a robotic dog called ‘Biscuit’ has been used in the Templeman House care home (part of not-for-profit charity Care South) in Bournemouth to provide similar stimulation and therapy – and help to reduce stress and anxiety among people with dementia.

The paper also identified public concerns that technology will replace human interaction to be a potential barrier to successful adoption, urging ministers to ensure that the public are centrally involved in decisions about the use of new technology in domestic settings.

“Digital technology has the potential to greatly improve everyday lives, but to maximise that benefit, we need to overcome barriers including public concerns about the possible impact of change,” said Scott Corfe, author of 4IR in the Home: Maximising the Benefits. “It is vital that people do not feel that technology is something that is being imposed on them, and that they feel that they are being consulted and listened to.”

Corfe added: “‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ technology could dramatically improve the way care is given, especially for the elderly, the young, and the disabled. But some of those people will need reassurance that technology will complement and improve human interactions, not take them away.”

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*CDN Jargonbusts: The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is the fourth major industrial era since the initial Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. It is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. It is marked by emerging technologies in a number of fields, such as robotics, artificial intelligence, blockchain, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, The Internet of Things, 3D printing and autonomous vehicles.

**Artificial intelligence (AI, also machine intelligence, MI) is intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence (NI) displayed by humans and other animals. (Sources: Wikipedia)