To the question "Are you crazy? Why would you want a cold robot instead of a real person, to care for you?!", I respond with the question "Are you willing to devote your life to my well being, to care for me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for free, without complaining?".
I need two robots actually. One that cares for me, but as being cared for isn't the only thing I want to achieve in my life, I need a second one to get other things done.
With a healthy body, you can take care of yourself and do so many other things on this world by moving your body around. If parts of your body become troublesome, you need more time to care for yourself, sometimes with some help from others. But when almost completely paralyzed, you will simply die when not getting a lot of support. I often long to the end of my paralyzed life. I don't want to die, but I'm tired-sick of suffering. Accepting the suffering as being part of how things are now, makes it more bearable, but never pleasant. I'm thankful for all the people that help me, but I'd rather be much more independent if I could. Until my spinal cord injury is repaired, to live kind of a normal life, I need exelent care 24/7, but instead the best I may get is expensive non-totally-devoted help at parts of the day.
I can already hear the people who help me, kind of angry say "so, you don't like me, think I'm not good enough, while I'm doing the best I can. Well, thanks -not, and goodbye". Again: there isn't enough budget to pay you 24/7. You can't and don't want to devote your life to my well being. The first practical care robots (2015?) can assist a little bit here and there, do simple but helpful jobs, nothing complex with responsibilities, they're all experimental. More advanced robots (2030?) can do surprisingly much, but will still not replace human help, not completely anyhow. So don't worry about your job and how you are appreciated -if you're a kind person. By the time these robots are practical, you're old and might need one to.
Of course would it be so much better to repair the spinal cord injury, that would solve so incredibly many problems at once, but when will that become possible? I don't know. It wouldn't surprise me if the evolution of robotics outrun the progress in medical bio-technology. The best would be both: a repair of the spinal cord, and a robot that can assist 24/7 during rehabilitation.
In most care situations I of course do prefer the company of a real human. Someone pleasant who's: smart, handy, energetic, helpful, relaxed, available, efficient. Problems are:
- Only very few people fit this demanding profile.
- There's not enough budget to pay someone 24/7.
- 24/7 care can't reasonably come from one person, so at least 3 perfect people I need.
- I don't like being cared for. I want to care for myself, be much more independent.
- I'm not that a likable guy. Many of my help's main motivation is money. Luckily in my situation do we choose to work together (thanks to the PGB budget in the Netherlands). How would my situation change if their was no budget? My family is small, they can't carry my care.
Not human, but very welcome when no human help is available.
A robot will probably not have a pleasant warm & funny character, but it could give quality care 24/7. I'm not taking about the robots of 2008, which are so dumb I don't even trust them for cleaning the floor. The robots that will come (if the modern world doesn't collaps) will be amazing, of a level no one has ever seen on this planet, except for in SF movies. They might even get pleasant characters, or slightly unpleasant if that's what you like.
Care robots should be in addition to human care. A robot can learn from human examples, and give care when no human help is available, which is most of the time. There are places where there's 24/7 care around, but that most often is shared-care. Having a for example 4 people who help 30 people, meaning you can get some care "when necessary", at the right time if you're lucky. And how cool is it to live together with just other physical handicapped people and professional care givers? I much rather be a freaky but independent part of "normal" life.
Good professional human care is very hard to find and organize, and 24/7 is incredible expensive. I could never buy that myself. If I could get good care robot 24/7, that would dramatically improve the quality of my live.
Pros and Cons
A robot isn't equal to a human, so they should not be compared. Robots can't equally replace humans and humans can't equally replace robots. Both have pros and cons.
People who are very depending on the help of other people know the pros and cons of people. Here are some of the care robots's:
Care Robots Pros:
+ Available 24/7
+ Come installed with the experience of many.
+ Can learn how to serve you best.
+ Share tip & tricks with other bots (install after permission)
+ Have no objections (unless it would harm you).
+ When broken, a new one can install the backed-up experiences.
+ Are connected to the internet and all, so you can do some work while being cared for.
+ Can drive a car, boot, aircraft (although by that time most vehicles can drive themselves).
+ Can keep the whole household up and running.
+ You will have more time & energy and be more flexible for things other than care, like: friends, family, work, fun stuf.
Care Robots Cons:
- If robotic help is successful, then we'll get very depending on them, also on the electrical power and the whole robotic industry.
- If robotic care is less expensive than human care, the amount of human care will be reduced to reduce costs.
- Machines brake down. There need to be a backup available at all times for both data and hardware. If there's no backup available, that can be terrible.
- The energy bill will be higher.
- At first, the company of a robot will feel weird perhaps even a little scarry. But well; when I with my head controlled wheelchair visit "the outside world" now in 2009, many people stare at me anyhow "OMG, look at that".
- Robotic company might be better than no or bad company, but a robot isn't a warm living person. It can feel cold and lonely. But as that robot has internet, you can for example voice chat with real friends while being cared for. But again: care robots are not ment to (completely) replace people. They are tools. Would you mind if I take away your washing machine?
- Will the robots take over control? Many SF stories predict so. I don't expect that in the near future. There will be conflicts. I'm already having fights with my computer when it's acting stupid again.
Surely do care robots have many downsides, everything has two sides, but I see more positives than negatives here. All together could care robots make it possible for me to: live more healthy, more independent, more active, making life more worth while really.
Me with Care robots! The robots from the highly recommendable SF movie "iRobot".
When will the robots come?
It's now January 2009. The development of robotics is impressive, although today's robots are in like an embriotic state; laboratorium experiments of parts.
The Software & Artificial nervous system
We haven't been able to develop good enough artificial intelligence yet. Maybe the biggest hurdle for its software is the state of pattern recognition, the ability to recognize subtle details of objects and intentions. Computers kind of ended the Mega Hertz speed race to now start the parralel race, the multicore road to more computing power. Parralel computing power is be very important for pattern recognition, where many values have to be compared all the time. Quantum computers would be incredible useful here, but hard to predict when they'll be available.
The hardware of 2008 is using a lot energy, making much noise and is moving very clumsy. I think partly because of the lack of proper artificial intelligence. On big step forward seems to be the air muscle, and other robot muscles other than electric motors driving noisy gears. Air muscles are flexibel tubes that become thick and short when air is pumped in, and look pretty similar to biological muscles. They can be very strong, but the supply of compressed air is troublesome, and these muscles tend to be wobbly. Much can be learned from nature, for example; I see many walking robots go from standing on one feet to standing on the other. When we people walk we actually fall forward gently, and place our forward going foot almost in front of the other. We want to steadily go forward, not wobbel left-right-left-right at the same time. It's all about balance and preserving energy. A better artificial nervous system (sensors) and artificial intelligence will improve the walking of the same hardware.
Last but not least: there is no good power source. Batteries are too heavy packs of nasty chemicals, and we don't want exhaust gasses in the house -not even steam from fuel cells. Perhaps will the on nanotechnology based ultra compasitors provide the power storage solution?
So, I guess it will take at least some 30 years before we see the first practical care robots, IF the necessary technologies are discovered and developed.
How will they look like?
First shape that comes to mind: a mechanical version of a human. But it doesn't have to be like that. We can design a robot in almost any shape we desire, after which we can discover what works well and what does not. A robot could change its appearance, its configuration, while working. A robot looking like a realistic human copy, is kind of scarry. Same for a machine looking very robotic. They can be styled like the gadgets we love. Shaped like a kind creature I think will become most common.
One other type of robot is an exoskeleton. An exoskeleton robot is like a robot suit. In my case, being almost completely paralyzed, the exoskeleton robot suit would replace my head controlled wheelchair. It could walk me just about anywhere, up stairs -no problem. It could give me blood pressure support just like fighter jet pilots get (I easily faint because I have no control over the tension in my muscles). And it could help me breathing when necessary. It has to be an intelligent exoskeleton because for example the walking is not something that anyone could do with a joystick or such. I can make it know where to walk to, but it needs to be smart enough to get there safely by itself, beware of traffic, and does not step in dog shit and such obvious details.
Conclusion: I need quality care 24/7. People won't or can't give me that. Hopefully two robots can assist me some day, so I can live my life much more independently. Much better would be to repair the spinal cord injury, but what will come first; the biological repair or the robots?
Giesbert Nijhuis - 20090116