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Getting old has just become a bit more frightening …

No one, I guess, is looking forward getting old, unless you are very very young.  However, that’s the circle of life and it is something you have to bear with.

Technology has been promising to cast a helping hand to elderly people, and indeed progress in health care (that by far is related to technology) has improved our wellbeing through elderly age. Not just that. A very technological device like a cell phone is providing a way to be in touch and also a link to get help if needed plus some diagnostic support.

The examples are clearly endless, from the help to hearing and sighting to cleaning of the house using a robot.

Now, talking about robot, a team of researchers at the university of Hertfordshire in the UK has been funded by a European research program to develop a social robot that can assist elderly people in doing home chores as well as providing a surrogate friend to interact with.

They have completed the project and presented the final results, including the ones deriving from experimentation of the robots in assisting several elderly people in UK, France and the Netherlands.

Based on the experiments and on the project’s reviewers it would seem that indeed a social robot can be accepted as a companion by elderly, can help them not just in daily chores but also in having a better life helping in preventing loneliness and isolation and in engaging into stimulating activities without being perceived as intrusive.  

It seems like the relation is not a fake one, that is pretending that the robot is actually a human being. The robot remains a robot, and also its shape is clearly far from a humanized character. Hence the relation that is forming is not one between humans but one between a human and an engaging machine that has the capability to generate empathy.

You can take a look at the clip, showing the robot in action.

I can surely see the usefulness of the “chore relieving” part but I feel uneasy about filling a potential sense of loneliness with a machine.  Interesting to read the comments of several people reading the news. They span from acceptance of its usefulness to complete refusal.

For my part, imagining myself interacting with one of these robots and possibly appreciating it just gives one more reason to be concerned about getting old.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.