Against the futurists’ proposed robot caregivers, Princeton anthropologist Zeynep Tufekci comments

Of course we have enough human caregivers for the elderly. The country –and the world— is awash in underemployment and unemployment, and many people find caregiving to be a fulfilling and desirable profession. The only problem is that we –as a society— don’t want to pay caregivers well and don’t value their labor. Slightly redistributive policies that would slightly decrease the existing concentration of wealth to provide subsidies for childcare or elder care are, unfortunately, deemed untouchable goals by political parties beholden to a narrow, über-wealthy slice of society.

Yoo hoo. I (64) visit my 95 year-old dad several times a day at a retirement home five minutes away on foot, in Ottawa, Canada. We’re safe but boring, even in a polar vortex.

Here is how it looks here: The caregivers help my dad who lives across the street from me with stuff I cannot (possibly shouldn’t) do.

Caregivers are mostly new Canadians, and we are very glad for them. Our country encourages health care careers and we wish prospective new immigrants well in them. They get about the same income I do.

But here is what Tufekci says about Japan’s drive for robot care instead:

Japan is notoriously anti-immigrant, and also hostile to women’s rights in terms of childcare and family-career balance. As a result, more and more Japanese women choose not to have children: hence the shortage of Japanese children to take care of parents. And the country refuses to address its demographic crisis by any easing of immigration policies—hundreds of thousands ethnic Koreans who have been in Japan through multiple generations, for example, do not have Japanese citizenship and can only assimilate if they more or less give up their Korean identity.

So, it’s not a shortage of caregivers, it’s a shortage of caring.

Now, a Canadian like your post author desperately wants to back away from any ethnic standoff because many countries (like Canada) are multicultural. Here is what we face now, no guff:

Modern medicine has given us the four generation family, good or bad, where grandfather is alive at the same time as his great-grandchildren. Great-grandpa really cares whether people he knows and loves come to see him, even if he is confused about who is alive and who is dead over nearly a century.

My own father (lost short term memory to stroke) simply can’t believe that his beloved wife and sisters have predeceased him. He insists that he sees them every time he takes a nap. Who can dispute it? But only a family member who knows the history might know who the old man is even talking about.

An excellent new Canadian personal care worker (I have met many!) cannot be expected to know about life on the open prairie in Canada in the 1930s, when John Patrick O’Leary drove a team of six horses, harvesting from Kansas City to Peace River , before he went off to the Battle of Britain in World War II (1939).

A robot can only pretend to know.

In a letter to the New York Times, technology researcher Sherry Turkle* says,

But I still believe that robots are inappropriate as caregivers for the elderly or for children. The robots proposed as “caring machines” fool us into thinking they care about us. Maintaining eye contact, remembering our names, responding to verbal cues — these are things that robots do to simulate care and understanding.

What if we don’t need to simulate? I had to exit, half-crying, after explaining this evening to a care worker that all the women my dad wants to reach are dead. But he really loved them a lot.

And what if old people need someone with them who remembers some of them? How much is that to ask? If we care.

See also: Robotic caregivers are a bad idea (but not just for the obvious reasons): If we look at it from an economic perspective, the pension money a senior spends on assisted living is not wasted. It is recycled back into the economy as someone else’s salary.

Some of this vid may be helpful, for long-term care planning:



Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

* Spelling corrected

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...