Academic Digital

Robots for Humanity's assistance?

“How often do I have to repeat this argument? There are not enough trained, affordable and available people!” So says Maja Matari?, a robotics professor at the University of Southern California, when explaining the rationale for building robots to assist humanity socially in the future.

“If every single young person 20 years from now takes care of an old person, there’s still not enough people to look after all of the old, not to mention those with lifelong developmental disorders. There are just not enough people. This is not about people versus robots – it’s never about people versus robots.”

According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, by 2034 the number of Britons aged 85 and over is projected to more than double to 3.5 million and account for 5 per cent of the total population. Meanwhile, the proportion of young people in the UK is falling steadily, with projections suggesting that under-16s will account for 18 per cent of the population by the same date.

In Japan, a predicted demographic time bomb has prompted both businesses and the state to invest millions of yen in the robotics industry, with mechanical solutions to coping with its growing elderly population preferred to non-Japanese carers. Indeed, robots are second only to one’s own children as preferred providers of old-age support in Japan.

What seems to underscore Japan’s fascination with robots is not positive social demand, but a government- and industry-led programme that is essentially anti-immigration in intent.

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