GROUP 2 — CARE ROBOTS (Workshop Case Study)

The growing interest in developing care robots especially designed for supporting humans in their daily tasks is fed mainly by the increasing proportion of elderly people in our society. Equipped with a wide range of sensors the most recent technologies promise robots programmed with a large array of skills ranging from assistance in handling tasks to calls for emergency services in case of accidents. Right at the forefront are humanoid robots designed to look and behave as human as possible.

Despite all the possible benefits provided by the application of robots in performing care-giving tasks, main ethical issues start to emerge. Should care robots look like a human? Can their appearance and behaviour make them interactive enough to provide humans with companionship at the cost of human isolation? Several problems arise from this emotional attachment, such as, if the robot breaks or loses all user specific information, which is essential to build a fake relationship between human and machines. In addition, this robotic solution can drive public policies towards less humanistic approaches to elderly people in general. Is the elderly population prepared to face a loss of privacy and personal liberty? The loss of privacy and independence of living in an asylum-like environment might be less intrusive than a camera and a machine overseeing the person. Are robot users conscious of all the information collected about them? While more and more companies have been working to release sophisticated systems capable of acting more “courteous, friendly and affable as a gentleman”, many ethical questions remain without an answer. So far, the use of care robots is mostly limited to research labs and it is still an open question how human behaviour can be affected by the continuous use of robotic systems and how mature the technology ought to be in order to allow its application.