Culturally sensitive robots for elder care! It’s about time. The European Union has funded the Culture Aware Robots and Environmental Sensor Systems for Elderly Support (CARESSES) project being coordinated in Italy. A December 13, 2018 news item on phys.org describes the project,
Researchers have developed revolutionary new robots that adapt to the culture and customs of the elderly people they assist.
Population ageing has implications for many sectors of society, one of which is the increased demand on a country’s health and social care resources. This burden could be greatly eased through advances in artificial intelligence. Robots have the potential to provide valuable assistance to caregivers in hospitals and care homes. They could also improve home care and help the elderly live more independently. But to do this, they will have to be able to respond to older people’s needs in a way that is more likely to be trusted and accepted.
The EU-funded project CARESSES has set out to build the first ever culturally competent robots to care for the elderly. The groundbreaking idea involved designing these robots to adapt their way of acting and speaking to match the culture and habits of the elderly person they’re assisting.
“The idea is that robots should be capable of adapting to human culture in a broad sense, defined by a person’s belonging to a particular ethnic group. At the same time, robots must be able to adapt to an individual’s personal preferences, so in that sense, it doesn’t matter if you’re Italian or Indian,” explained researcher Alessandro Saffiotti of project partner Örebro University, Sweden, …
A December 13, 2018 (?) CORDIS press release, which originated the news item, adds more detail about the robots and their anticipated relationship to their elderly patients,
Through its communication with an elderly person, the robot will fine-tune its knowledge by adapting it to that person’s cultural identity and individual characteristics. Using this knowledge, it will be able to remind the elderly person to take their prescribed medication, encourage them to eat healthily and be active, or help them stay in touch with family and friends. The robot will also be able to make suggestions about the appropriate clothing for specific occasions and remind people of upcoming religious and other celebrations. It doesn’t replace a care home worker. Nevertheless, it will play a vital role in helping to make elderly people’s lives less lonely and reducing the need to have a caregiver nearby at all times.
Scientists are testing the first CARESSES robots in care homes in the United Kingdom and Japan. They’re being used to assist elderly people from different cultural backgrounds. The aim is to see if people feel more comfortable with robots that interact with them in a culturally sensitive manner. They’re also examining whether such robots improve the elderly’s quality of life. “The testing of robots outside of the laboratory environment and in interaction with the elderly will without a doubt be the most interesting part of our project,” added Saffiotti.
The innovative CARESSES (Culture Aware Robots and Environmental Sensor Systems for Elderly Support) robots may pave the way to more culturally sensitive services beyond the sphere of elderly care, too. “It will add value to robots intended to interact with people. Which is not to say that today’s robots are completely culture-neutral. Instead, they unintentionally reflect the culture of the humans who build and program them.”
Having had a mother who recently died in a care facility, I can testify to the importance of cultural and religious sensitivity on the part of caregivers. As for this type of robot not replacing anyone, I take that with a grain of salt. They always say that and I expect it’s true in the initial stages but once the robots are well established and working well? Why not? After all, they’re cheaper in many, many ways and with the coming tsunami of elders in many countries around the world, it seems to me that displacement by robots is an inevitability.